Cellphone tracking error leads people to man's home

Wayne Dobson is being plagued by people looking for their cellphones. "What has become a powerful tool for police hunting down bad guys and people who lose their phones or who call 911 has backfired on Dobson. An unexplained glitch with at least one cellphone company is directing people with missing phones to his North Las Vegas home." (Las Vegas Review-Journal)


  1. Hmm there is nothing obviously different with WGS84 coordinates in that area. I was thinking in terms of a numerical problem with coordinates. You see this with coordinate transformations from time to time. For example with the conversion between stereographic to geographic coordinates. If your stereo coordinates are accidentally zero then everything will get the same geo coordinate.

    1. My thought was maybe that the location tracking was only able to discern that the phone is in “Las Vegas, somewhere”, and when fed to a mapping application it just sent you directly to the center of the city, where this poor fellow happens to live.

      I’ve been burned by this a couple of times with mapping applications, where I input an address that it doesn’t recognize, but it can figure out what city you’re talking about, and gives you directions to the geographic center of the city. 

      1. Half the IP addresses in LA used to map to the same intersection in the middle of nowhere.

      2. I have been thinking about this. I mean how many times do we hard-code some random number into an algorithm to test it, then generalize the algorithm to go against a table, but forget to take out that one hard-coded value..? My guess is that it’s something inane, stupid, preventable and hard to spot like this.

    1. My thoughts exactly.

      This is similar to, but worse than, the problem when your phone number is one digit off from a very popular number. I used to work at a place where a misdialing of the Greyhound bus station would result in a call on our second line. I eventually resorted to answering that line with “This is NOT the bus station.” They’d still want to know when was the next bus to Nogales.

      1. I once had a phone number that was either similar to or was a disused number formerly belonging to a group that housed the mentally ill.  (The calls eventually (after some years) trailed off to nothing, which made me suspect my number had previously been theirs.)  I got a lot of interesting calls thanks to that.  I tried various permutations of my answering machine message to let people know they had the wrong number, but it never worked, there was always someone who ignored it.  Oddly, even after explaining that they had the wrong number and it was a private residence, they still wanted to know what the right one was, as if somehow I must be affiliated with that organization anyways.

        1. I once called my GF but dialed the wrong number.  The woman who answered was a asleep and I said “Oh I’m sorry baby did I wake you?”  and she said “Oh that’s all right…..”  We chatted for a minute before i figured out I’d called a wrong number….

          1. A friend told me that once, when he was in high school, someone who my friend didn’t immediately recognize walked up to him, greeting him very familiarly.  They exchanged pleasantries while my friend wracked his brain, trying to remember the guy’s name.  Then the person asked, “So, when did they let you out of juvie?”  At that point my friend realized that he had been mistaken for someone else but the conversation had gone too far to correct the misunderstanding, so he just played along, “Oh, you know… a while ago” until he could make an excuse to extricate himself from the conversation.
            Even weirder, another friend was greeted by a stranger on the street who actually addressed her by her first name.  It was only after a few minutes of this person talking about the context in which they supposedly knew each other that she realized she not only had a double, but that the double shared her first name.

          2. I used to get, “Don’t I know you from juvie?” all the time. Starting at about age eight.

        1. God especially in vegas, it’s the town that’s ‘if you can’t make it anywhere, make nothing of you life here until you drink yourself to death’

  2. And now that he’s been in the news, he can freely steal cell phones and everyone will assume it’s just another glitch.

    The perfect crime.

      1. Except for the part where they shoot him because he was holding a cell phone trying to call the police because he didn’t steal a cell phone.

      2. Oh, they may send people out, but they’ll just figure “Oh, another cell phone call.. well, I’ll just explain to the person who needs their phone that this guy gets this all the time.”

        And maybe Las Vegas isn’t this bad, but I know people in many neighborhoods count themselves lucky if they can get police to respond in person at all to a simple stolen property complaint, so I kind of have a hard time believing that they’ll spend much manpower repeatedly checking on a known glitch and doing a thorough in-person investigation to see if he’s really got their phone this time… if it was a 911 call, that’s different. 

        All that aside from it being a joke and it would fail the first time he stole the wrong brand of phone..

        1. Yeah I lived there, and it seemed like the cops did nothing (oh someone broke into your car and left finger prints all over everything? wuss) except shoot people in the back at Costco.

  3. Surely this is actionable? He is in effect being subjected to a campaign of harassment – potentially dangerous harassment due to encounters with irate phone owners and with police and others following up domestic-violence complaints – because of the negligence or incompetence of the phone companies and/or their software developers. Having notified them of the problem they are causing, couldn’t he then collect damages for his distress and endangerment as he continues to suffer from it?

    1. Lynch Mobs around here usually tend to be more of the Blue Velvet variety than the rope based kind, but what the hell . . . GUILTY.  
      It’s time for the drones to sort this one out.

    1.  Or maybe his home is the opening of the space-time vortex that sucks in lost cell phones… sorta like the vortex that sucks in that single sock once in every few dozen dryer loads.

      1. Come on, folks! It’s obvious what’s going on here. Dobson’s house is clearly on top of a time rift, only this one routes GPS data instead of calls from anywhere in the universe to one location.

        Joking aside, I feel bad for this guy and I’d be a helluva lot less accommodating towards a quartet of entitled young men showing up at my doorstep and 2:30 AM. Sadly, Nevada does not have a Castle Doctrine law, so you can’t follow verbal warnings with warning shots to get trespassers off your front doorstep. But if someone tried to B&E in the middle of the night after being told to leave, who would gamble their family’s safety on the invader(s) being unarmed and nonviolent? More to the point, what kind of reckless idiot skulks through a stranger’s backyard based on a find-my-phone app?!

        Sprint…we’ve got you covered all right!

Comments are closed.