Kait Duplaga and her two housemates had their flat emptied by burglars who took two laptops.
However, Duplaga was surprised to get a text from a friend congratulating her on recovering her laptop after she began showing up at online forums and messaging sites.
Duplaga, who works at the Apple store in Westchester, New York, was able to take control of the device using an application called Back to my Mac.
She activated the laptop's camera and waited until someone appeared in shot. She then managed to get a screenshot before the burglar realised and covered up the camera.
"This gave us a picture of the guy actually using the stolen property," Daniel Jackson, deputy commissioner of public safety in White Plains, told The New York Times. "It certainly made our job easier."
The thief was identified as a 'friend of a friend' who had recently been at Duplaga's apartment for a party.
Edmon Shahikian and Ian Frias were arrested on 7 May following the identification, and almost all stolen items have been recovered.
"It is certainly a great use of what was probably meant as a business product," said Jackson.
More burglars are now being caught by technology embedded in the devices they have stolen.
In 2005 a British computer science student used his webcam to identify a thief, and companies are now selling home security kits that use computers to monitor the home.
Remote access app catches crook
By Iain Thomson on May 13, 2008 7:26AM