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Lost phones keep being tracked to house in Vegas - to owner's frustration

Jan. 16, 2013 at 2:54 PM ET

A sign adorns Wayne Dobson's front door at his North Las Vegas home: "NO LOST CELL PHONES!!"

It may seem somewhat quaint, but Dobson deemed it necessary after so many people started showing up at his doorstep demanding their phones. It turns out that people who have lost their phones (or perhaps had them stolen) are being directed to Dobson's place due to an error in their carrier's phone-tracking system.

In a report by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the 59-year-old retiree explains how things got out of hand. At first, a person or two looking for a phone in his area might have been considered a random mistake. But after the third or fourth person showed how tracking software had led them directly to Dobson's address, he decided it was more than a coincidence.

There's a cell phone tower close by his house, and it seems that Sprint customers in particular are being drawn to it like moths. Apps like "Find my iPhone" and others use GPS and cell tower triangulation to locate lost phones, but in this case they seem to be failing — and then defaulting to Dobson's home as the location of the goods.

Such systems are usually fairly reliable. Apple has made it a standard service on iPhones, and third-party versions are competing for market space on other platforms. They've even been used to thwart criminals: Recently, a man tracking down his stolen iPad accidentally unraveled an established burglary and meth ring in Seattle.

That's no comfort to Dobson, who has little sympathy for what he called people's "technology pets." He's been awakened at all hours, pestered during the day, and had the police show up several times. "It's a hell of a problem," he told the Review-Journal. "It would be nice to be able to get a good night's sleep."

He's tried calling Sprint, which told him it would look into the problem, but for now the error is still in effect. He put the sign out front, but still fears that one night he may encounter a less-than-rational cell phone owner. So if you lose your phone in Las Vegas and your finder app points you to an ordinary-looking house with a sign by the door, give the man a break.

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Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBCNews Digital and TODAY.com. His personal website is coldewey.cc.

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