Device Tracking

How to avoid buying a stolen laptop

Learn expert tips on avoiding buying stolen laptops. We explain how to check if a laptop is stolen and what to do next. So stay safe, and read now!

April 3, 2023

Buying a used laptop can be a great way to save money, but it's essential to be cautious to avoid purchasing a stolen device. In this article, you will learn how to check if a laptop is stolen. From identifying red flags to verifying a device's legitimacy, this guide will equip you with the knowledge you need to make a safe and informed purchase.

Every 53 seconds, a laptop is stolen in the United States, and approximately 74% of all laptop thefts occur in public places or while traveling, as reported by Gitnux. In addition, prey's database reveals that around 20% of the devices recovered by Prey were obtained by people who purchased them online. The most frequent sites used for these activities turned out to be eBay and Craigslist. It is important to emphasize that none of these sites condone the trading of stolen devices. Because of this reason, they have implemented their own rules and regulations to put an end to the commercialization of misappropriated electronics. Nevertheless, thieves still manage to bypass them, leaving users at their mercy.

We don't want you to become one of the victims, and we are sure you don't want that either. So, we have gathered an assortment of advice for you to take into account when buying used devices from online classifieds.

How to check if a laptop is stolen

1. Ask for the receipt

Whenever you buy an item in the formal market, you get a receipt which is the written record that you have bought an item. It is advisable to keep it, especially regarding electronics, as it can become proof of ownership.
Consequently, you should ask for the device's receipt whenever you buy a used device. If the seller is able to give you the receipt, then you can be sure that they are the legitimate owner of the device or that they acquired the electronic in a good manner. Thieves rarely, if ever, steal the device with the receipt.

2. Ask for a copy of their ID

Identification documents to help verify a person's information, physical appearance, and different facts which prove that the person is who he says he is. Moreover, every identifier is unique and helps distinguish one person from another. As a result, If you need further proof of the seller's validity, ask for a photocopy of an ID card. Possible con artists will never agree to that since it will compromise them in case you go to the police.

3. Ask for the device's serial number and track it

Serial numbers are like IDs for electronic devices. They are unique for each laptop. Consequently, they can be used to track and determine if a device has been reported as stolen. You can do that by contacting your local police or visiting the manufacturers' website. Most major laptop companies, such as Dell, have their own database of stolen devices, which you can check.

4. Schedule a meeting with the seller beforehand

Chances are, if it's a serious seller, you will be able to meet with them beforehand to make sure that everything is in order with the laptop. This will give you the opportunity to check the device for physical damage, e.g., dead pixels or defunct hardware, that may or may not have been commented on the classified ad.

5. Check for password protection

Always try to check if the laptop you are going to buy is password protected and whether or not the seller knows the password. If the seller does not know the device's password, it may have been stolen. On the other hand, if they know the access passwords, you can be sure they did not acquire them from theft.

6. Check the folders for data

While you have access to the device, check the folders for existing data, e.g., pictures, documents, etc. You can even ask for the story behind some pictures or documents. Most likely, if it was robbed, the seller will not appear in any of them and will most likely have a dumb explanation as to why. Nevertheless, consider that people who sell their laptops will make sure to erase all their data so nobody will have access to their information.

Buying a used laptop? 10 Red flags to look for

  1. The price seems too good to be true.
  2. The laptop shows evident wear and tear or physical damage (check the Kensington lock slot)
  3. Key components of the laptop, like the charger or battery, are missing.
  4. The license key is invalid, or the laptop's operating system is not legit.
  5. The vendor won't provide the laptop's serial number or identifying details like hardware documentation.
  6. The laptop has stickers or engravings that suggest it may be stolen property.
  7. Asking the seller about the laptop's history or origin results in evasion or silence.
  8. There are hardware or software issues that weren't mentioned in the listing.
  9. The laptop is password protected, or the seller is unwilling to turn on the laptop or connect it to the Internet.
  10. The vendor insists on conducting the sale in a questionable or sketchy location.

Final Words

It's important to clarify that all these criteria will not necessarily be met. For example, the owner might have forgotten to keep the receipt. But if used wisely, it can give you the tools to identify suspicious behavior.

Finally, if you buy the laptop after much thought and reassurance from following the previous advice, it is always a good idea to save some specific documents in case something unforeseeable happens:

  • Make copies of any credit card transactions or money orders from the transaction.
  • Take a snapshot of the Craigslist's ad so that if it turns out to be stolen property, you can back your story with the police.
  • Keep a  copy of the seller's ID if given to you.

We can’t stress enough that if you doubt ever so slightly if you have any suspicion that the laptop may have been stolen, do not buy it. As the old saying goes, it is better to be safe than sorry.

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