In my opinion part of being a good investigator is the ability track people down.  Technology changes all the time and you have to stay on top of it.  Many of the cases I work involve the use of burner phones.  The link will describe what they are used for many times and this article will discuss there is a false illusion of anonymity.

I am working a case right now where a Metro PCS phone is being used in what I believe is a shake down.  I will say that I have the cell phone records in terms of who this person called and who called them, dates, time and length of calls.   So as not to ruin surprises that will come later I will say I did not  pull these records but it was done so legally.  That implies a search warrant or subpoena.

In the old days tracking a cell phones activity depended on the closest cell tower that the phone connected to but it’s a bit different today.  Cell towers are still used but GPS determines which tower to route to.  What that means is your exact location is picked up and the cell tower is chosen.  Those records are stored and/or can be accessed in real time.

So for example a bail jumper skips out and is on the lam, his location can be pinged via the phone.  Here is an explanation.

Any wireless device that communicates Via the Cellular Phone systems which will include Cellular Phones; Laptop Computers, iPads, Vehicle emergency call devices such as On-Star. These devices are low powered with a limited range. They send and receive data and calls that are relayed through the nearest Cell Towers. Cellular devices have to identify their location to the carriers that service their plans so the carrier knows which “Tower” to send and receive your calls through. As you move about, the provider’s systems keep track of your location in order to direct the call traffic to the Tower closest to your location. The Tower assigned to your traffic will change as you move out of range of the initial Tower to a closer one in your path of travel.

CELL TOWER: Cellular Towers are antenna arrays that are mounted on the roofs of buildings or on towers. These “Towers” arranged in triangular configurations all across the country. Each provider uses their own antennas but may share the same Tower to mount them on.

CDMA/ANALOG: This is the earlier transmission protocol and it included a means of locating the Cell unit’s position by receiving a signal from the three nearest Cell Towers which it then calculated which was the closest of the three Towers to send and receive your communications through. The closest Tower usually being the one that has the strongest signal (Those are the “Bars” you see on the phone’s screen, we all love to see 5 bars).

GPS: Global Positioning Satellite are the newest method of locating the Cellular device’s position which is then transmitted (continually) to the provider so the provider will then select the nearest Tower to send and receive your calls through. GPS enabled units DO NOT communicate through Satellites. They only receive transmissions from Satellites which is then used to compute their location and then send that location to the Provider who as is stated, then selects the Cell Tower closest to that position to sent transmissions through.

PING: A Request Signal is sent to the phone number of the Cellular Unit someone is trying to locate. The Unit returns the Latitude and Longitude Coordinates of its present location as determined by the data from GPS Satellites or it can return the Coordinates of the nearest Cell Tower. Coordinates derived from a three satellite signal computation are very accurate, usually within 15 feet. Coordinates that are those of the nearest Cell Tower. CDMA/ANALOG systems always return Coordinates to the nearest Cell Tower while a GPS system can return either the actual position of the subject or the location of the nearest Cell Tower. The latter happens on GPS Systems when the Cell Unit only received signals from two satellites rather than three. “r” FACTOR: When you receive PING results there will be string of numbers that are the Latitude and Longitude coordinates of the location. At the end of most of these strings is the letter “r” and a number right after that. The “r” stands for Radius and is the radius in feet (the number after the “r”) that the actual cellular unit Pinged is from the those coordinates.

The short explanation of that your exact location will be picked up within 15 feet or so.  So say for example you are using the number 949-600-xxxx for a shake down or to call hookers,your bank, the computer repairman etc, the exact location of the calls will be stored and/or accessed in real time.  So in this case we might know the calls were coming from a specific address in Laguna Beach. CA.

From that address I am able to determine who is making the calls.  If you think you can avoid detection by buying phone cards instead of using a credit card, think again.

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