MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — University of Minnesota senior Alexis Haeg-Vang was studying for class on campus when she noticed something was missing.

“I got up to leave, on my way to my appointment I realized my phone was gone,” she said.

Alexis immediately tried to locate the phone that she bought for $700. She did so with a GPS tracker app from her computer. The battery had already been taken out from the phone.

“Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find the location, but then I realized I had an email,” she said.

The email was a photo of the man who had her phone, courtesy of the “Lookout” app. If someone enters the wrong password set on the phone several times, the phone silently takes a photo of the user and emails it to the owner.

“I kind of freaked out,” Haeg-Vang said. “I thought up until that point maybe I misplaced it. And then I realized somebody had taken it and I figured I’d never see it again.”

Haeg-Vang posted the photo of the man on a student Facebook page. Suddenly, dozens of students were weighing in who he might be and where the picture was taken on campus. Many wanted to know how she did it.

“Just tons and tons of people were asking ‘What app is this?’” she said.

Smartphone app developer Aaron Kardell said similar picture-taking security apps aren’t as well known because they usually cost money. Lookout is free.

“This spreads virally on social networks and it’s a great way to get the word out,” he said.

Less than 24 hours after Alexis posted that photo online, the thief turned in the phone.

“Apparently he was just so shocked his photo was going around the Internet, he decided to turn it in,” Haeg-Vang said.

Haeg-Vang said she hopes her success story will encourage other students to download the app and make phone thieves think twice.

“I never thought it would come in handy but it finally did,” she said.

Lookout is free to all users. The photo-taking feature is currently only available to Android users.

Kate Raddatz