1. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Question about how cell phone tracing technology works.

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Ryan Elder, Jan 19, 2016.

    A lot of times in books and movies, if a character does not want the police to trace his phone, he/she will take the battery out so the GPS is not powered to give out a signal.

    But if I want my character to use get a call? I have a situation, where a character is on the run, and another character wants to call him. I want the fugitive to recieve the call.

    The fugitive cannot use a burner phone, cause the character trying to call him, would not be aware of any burners. He would just be aware of the normal phone the, the fugitive owned before.

    So can I write it so that the fugitive disables the GPS on his phone completely? That way he can still keep it on, all he wants for the story and the police would not be able to trace it, even though they have his number.

    I asked others but have gotten mixed opinions on whether or not, you can disable GPS on a cell phone and still use it successfully. Does anyone know?
     
  2. Electralight
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    On Iphones and such you can turn off location services; but the GPS is never truly disabled. The only way that I am aware of disabling the GPS (and not destroying the phone) would to be completely shutting it down. However, I did read an article claiming that even when a phone is completely shut down, it can still be tracked.
    One thing you could do, is have your MC buy a burner and put the old sim card in. That way they would have the same number, but the phone would not have location services on it, and he/she would not be able to be tracked.
     
  3. Samurai Jack
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    Samurai Jack Active Member

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    Cellphones are ultimately tracked by triangulating the phone's signal across several cell phone towers.

    You phone transmits an "I'm here" signal at 4:00 pm, Tower One receives that signal at 4:00:05 pm, Tower Two at 4:00:07 pm, Tower Three at 4:00:10 pm. That allows software to know you are in a specific area, while making an educated guess about an exact location.

    GPS and WiFi can help pinpoint your location by assisting the triangulation but are unnecessary.

    If you are only near one cell tower, your location is anywhere within range of that tower. Your position cannot be tracked. If you are only near two cell towers, your location is within a definable area, but it's much larger, and your position cannot be tracked.

    Essentially though, if the phone is capable of making or receiving calls, the location of the phone will be known.
     
  4. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Even if the SIM card is put in a different phone, will it still be known?
     
  5. Samurai Jack
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    Samurai Jack Active Member

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    SIM stands for Subscriber Identification Module. A SIM card specifically identifies the person who owns the account. Placing the SIM card in a different phone only enables the phone to make calls through that account, not change the identify of the person making the calls. And, again, if the phone is capable of making or receiving calls, the phone can be tracked.
     
  6. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Yeah that's what thought. What's the best way to make a phone untraceable then?
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    What about getting a burner phone and having your phone forward calls to the burner number?

    I have no clue but it seemed like a question worth asking those that do know.
     
  8. LostThePlot
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    In truth; you can't.

    That's just the way the world works these days. IIRC modern devices can ALL have their GPS etc remotely read by law enforcement so you really can't use a mobile device like that.

    What might be a more realistic approach would be for your guy to remove his SIM, turn off cellular radios, use a Tor plugin to encrypt his traffic, log in to a free wifi hotspot somewhere and take a call via a VOIP system. That would allow him to be almost anywhere and still on a mobile device, but not be traceable through the phone system, only through the internet which is much more time consuming.
     
  9. Samurai Jack
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    Samurai Jack Active Member

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    The original phone would still be traceable. I'm guessing the fugitive is being looked for. An active, stationary cell phone won't last long.
     
  10. Samurai Jack
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    Does VOIP maintain the same phone number? I know a few do, but it's essentially signing up for a new phone service, isn't it?
     
  11. Samurai Jack
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    Honestly, no, not without removing the phone's ability to be a phone, and not without changing the functionality you need.

    I can make calls on my iPod, but that only works when I'm logged into WiFi. Problems being there just aren't that many free WiFi hotspots to keep me going, even in a city of 700,000 people, and no one really has the number. Your fugitive would have to be constantly hopping from McDonald's to Jiffy Lube to Starbucks, and whoever needs to get in contact with the fugitive would have to know that number.

    The easiest solution is a second phone and a list of phone numbers, but I don't know how that would adapt to your story.
     
  12. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. What if the fugitive had a laptop with him and used the internet to communicate instead?
     
  13. LostThePlot
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    It depends but typically you keep whatever number you get assigned and can even pick a custom number that appears to be a standard landline number for a fee. And let me tell you; it is nothing like the same as signing up for landline phone service. If you sign up for a Skype account they don't care what details you put in as long as you verify the e-mail and have a credit card. Now, that means your MC needs to figure out how to get one that doesn't lead back to him but that's an easy hurdle - prepaid card, pay someone to borrow their card, stuff you can figure out easily enough. But once you're set up the number you get given will stay your number until your subscription runs out. And that's the important thing; a number that will always go to him without exposing his location, right? He still needs internet from a non-cellular source but that's solvable too - Get a cheap smartphone with a prepaid data SIM, set it up to use Tor and then use it as a wireless hotspot. The cellular radio is just the last internet hop and obfuscated behind Tor which is perhaps not perfectly safe but it's not something you can break easilly especially if they only traffic is phone calls.
     
  14. LostThePlot
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    That would work just fine. The same smartphone trick would work just as well for a laptop.

    Although they aren't popular you can get cigarette lighter to laptop charging cables so he could in theory keep going just as long as a smartphone. That said, it's rather less sexy to be lugging a laptop around, but you could give him a nice wireless headset to take calls on?
     
  15. GingerCoffee
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    But it still wouldn't be located where you were located. So it'd be good for a short time.

    If you wanted to have the character get really clever, he could leave the phone on something like a moving ferry. The people looking for him might need to wait until the ferry docked or something and by that time he'd have gotten his call and ditched his burner phone.
     

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