I Was Gaslit: A Conspiracy Theory

Dear Reader,

I thought my phone was stolen until the suspected thief tried to convince me otherwise. Please see my last post (here) for the full story about how my iPhone was lifted and then returned to me. Although my story has a happy ending, the incident brought me a lot of stress and, to be honest, I think everything is a bit more complicated than it so seemed.

Here’s a quick recap of what happened — one evening, I stopped by the tiny convenience store near where I live. I set my stuff on the counter and paid with cash. I stepped outside the store and by the time I was on the corner (not more than 20 feet from the check-out counter), I noticed that my phone was no longer in my possession. I see a man run out of the store and into a car that sped away. I tried to track down my phone with the help of my friend. The man who had it, I’m calling him Randolph, said that he just “found it on the floor” and would return it to me the next morning. He did return it to me (albeit 45 minutes after the time he said he would); I gave him $20 for his troubles, and everything is gucci, right?

If you are into a + b = c, straightforward logic — then, yeah, this story wraps up like little gift. However, when humans and emotions are involved, simple mathematical thinking may fall short to explain the gray areas in my above story.

In short, here is my conspiracy theory: Randolph was the man who dashed into the store that evening, saw my unattended phone and then ran off with it. He had malicious intent for the phone, but then could not quickly offload/ extract value from it. For this reason (and perhaps for feelings of guilt), when presented with the opportunity, Randolph decided to return the phone to me, potentially with the intent of securing additional value from this interaction.

Here is why I am convinced of my little conspiracy theory:

POINT 1: I believe Randolph was the man that I saw that evening running out of the store and getting into the quickly accelerating car.

Raven’s Argument 1.1. There is much evidence to suggest that eye witnesses are unreliable — I am no exception. In fact, I believe my capacity to remember faces is worse than average. However, while I do not remember faces well, I do remember that the man who ran out of the store was a not-tall man, wearing a white sweatshirt with a striped pattern on it. When I saw Randolph the next morning, he was wearing a similar, if not the exact same sweatshirt of the man that I saw on the previous night.

Devil’s Advocate Counter Argument 1.1. You are an unreliable eyewitness indeed. Therefore, you cannot indeed confirm that the man from the night that your phone went missing and the man that returned your phone the next morning are the same man.

Raven’s Argument 1.2. I was wearing my Bluetooth headphones at the time. I was standing outside the store when my headphones disconnected from my iPhone, i.e., I was not moving. However, near me, the car that the man ran into was speeding down the street. I believe that my headphones disconnected because my phone was in the car (and therefore not lying on the shop floor). Furthermore, when I walked back into the store to search for my iPhone, my Bluetooth headphones would not reconnect to the iPhone. If my iPhone were simply lying somewhere on the floor like Randolph claimed, why wouldn’t they reconnect anywhere in the teeny, tiny store?

Devil’s Advocate Counter Argument 1.2. Your Bluetooth headphones totally broke down temporarily and that is why they would not reconnect to your iPhone, but they did miraculously work the next day when you iPhone was returned to you… somehow.

POINT 2. Randolph claimed that he “found my iPhone on the floor.” I believe that this is a lie.

Raven’s Argument 2.1. I believe that I would have heard/ seen my iPhone fall on the floor. I drop my iPhone frequently — the screen is cracked, and the case is broken in multiple places. I hear and see my iPhone when it falls — every, single time.

Devil’s Advocate Counter Argument 2.1. You were too distracted to notice the thunk of your iPhone hitting the floor this time around. Maybe you unwittingly set your phone down on a surface; you walked away, and then some act of gravity forced your phone to the ground when you were far enough away to not even hear it make a sound.

Raven’s Argument 2.2. I believe that there is no way that Randolph just “found my iPhone on the floor,” because I and one of the shop owners looked all over the store and did not find the phone. I do not believe that some dude, Randolph, who came to the convenience store to shop the aisles and shelves randomly stumbled upon the phone (that two people actually looking for the phone were unable to locate). The phone clearly was not just lying out in the open!

Devil’s Advocate Counter Argument 2.2. Hmmm, that’s a good point. Maybe… Hmmm…. You’re just both super bad at looking for things? Idk.

POINT 3. When the phone was returned to me the next day, I noticed that my phone was tampered with. Here are the three things that I noticed:

  1. The language was changed from Spanish to English (yes, my phone is in Spanish; no, I’m not a native Spanish speaker).
  2. When I turned on my phone, I found the message “iPhone unavailable, try again in 1 hour.” The internet tells me that this message appears when there are 9 incorrect passcode attempts in a row.
  3. When I went into settings, I saw that there were (unsuccessful) attempts to change my Apple ID.
  4. The cellular service network was shut off.

Raven’s Argument 3.1. Randolph attempted to break into my phone with nefarious intent. My phone is not set to automatically lock, but after a while, the iPhone will prompt the passcode. I believe that Randolph was able to access my phone when he initially secured the phone. I believe that he changed the language setting on my phone and then rooted around to see what he could access. I believe that he attempted to disable my passcode but was unable to. I think he was surprised to find that my phone did eventually lock, and he became frustrated because he was not done with his digging.

Devil’s Advocate Counter Argument 3.1. Randolph was desperately trying to return your phone, which was why he was looking through it, trying to figure out who to contact to return it.

Here are some other things that are still nagging at me about the whole interaction:

Unresolved point #1. Randolph was not working alone. When Randolph dropped the phone off to me the next morning, there was a person in the passenger seat of the car. Randolph’s car windows were super tinted, so I could not discern anything about the figure in the passenger seat except for the fact that he/she/they were an adult. The man who ran out of the store the night before also had a passenger in this car. Who was this person? What was their role in the deception? Did they encourage the phone theft or act as the angel on Randolph’s shoulder, egging him to return the stolen property?

Unresolved point #2. Why did Randolph return the phone? When we spoke on the phone to coordinate the phone’s return, he said something along the lines of “what goes around comes around” and that he wanted to return the phone in good conscience. Is this the truth? Or, perhaps, did Randolph plant spyware on my device and is he still trying to reap reward for his misdeeds? I checked for signs of tampering (per guidance that I found online) and do see a few warning signs, regarding settings being changed on the phone (see Point 3 above). However, I did not find a smoking gun (like new app downloads, for example).

Unresolved point #3. Why did Randolph switch off the cellular service? (see Point 3 above) When Randolph returned the phone to me the next morning the phone was disabled — why did he do it? Was he worried that he was being tracked? (Which, yeah, he was! I was tracking him through Find My iPhone, see previous post). If the notifications were bothering him, then he could just power down the phone (which he eventually did).

I do not possess a generally negative outlook on mankind, but I also do not quite feel comfortable giving Randolph the benefit of the doubt. This conspiracy theory does not explain away every point. However, I do feel that Randolph, like most people, is complex. Sometimes our emotions lead us to act in ways that seem contradictory to onlookers. I will never know with 100% clarity what Randolph did and why he did it, however, I do believe that yes, he had a hand in taking my phone (with malicious intent ) and, yes, he had a hand in returning my phone (perhaps with good intent?).

Either way, I’m just happy to have my phone back, so I will rest my case.



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