iPhone thief accidentally IDs himself via Photobucket

A self-portrait of the thief holding the stolen phone is silently uploaded to the Cloud

Photobucket has a cool mobile application that allows users to automatically upload mobile pictures to the company's photo-sharing website. That's something that Korey Heess is unlikely to forget anytime soon, after allegedly snapping a picture of himself that was used by police to identify him as a smartphone thief.

Police in Salinas, California, had been investigating a rash of purse snatchings at local stores when one of their victims uncovered some new evidence a few days ago. Not long after her phone was stolen, a picture of a young man with a goatee and earrings popped up in her Photobucket picture-sharing account.

The man was staring intently at the camera - her camera - as he snapped a self-portrait on a wall-sized mirror.

She recognised him instantly, according to Commander Terry Gerhardstein of the Salinas Police Department. "She looks at Photobucket and she says, 'I've never taken this picture,'" he said. "This is the guy who stole my phone."

With photo in hand, police linked the man to two other thefts. And when they broadcast the picture on a local TV station, the tips started pouring in, Gerhardstein said. "We had callers calling in within the hour."

The tipsters told police the thief was Korey Heess, 26, of Salinas. He was arrested on felony robbery and theft charges early Sunday morning.

Photobucket acquired the mobile-phone Auto Uploader feature that helped ID Heess as part of its December 2009 merger with Ontela, according to Lisa Dilg, a Photobucket spokeswoman. But this is the first time it's been used to solve a crime. "We have never seen anything like it," she said of the case. "We thought it was pretty funny."

Robert McMillan covers computer security and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Robert on Twitter at @bobmcmillan. Robert's e-mail address is robert_mcmillan@idg.com

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