Nobody is in a safe place when it comes to laptop theft. We use these portable devices for a myriad of things: to take notes at school (or randomly browse the internet at a boring lecture), for work, to store our important files, music, memories, and more. Sadly, no matter how much time or money we invest in securing them, the chances of your laptop getting stolen are there, and according to your lifestyle, they can vary quite significantly.
We researched and launched our Mobile Theft & Loss Report in 2020 that can shed some light on the subject. After reviewing 697 cases, we found the following:
Top Misplaced Locations
- Home (28%)
- Street (14%)
- Work (13%)
- Public Transportation (12%)
Top Pickpocketed Locations
- Street (27%)
- Public Transportation (20%)
- School (18%)
- Work (12%)
These are just a few of the many places that a device can be “lost”. In fact, in that same report, we found that laptop theft has gone up by over 30% in the past few years. If you’re here because your laptop was stolen, you’re (unfortunately) not alone.
Listen to the story of a user who caught a thief with his Mac at a cafe! (Dramatized from a recovery case)
How To Protect Your Laptop From Being Stolen
Protecting your laptop from theft is essential to safeguard your data and investment. Here are some steps and precautions you can take to minimize the risk of laptop theft:
1. Secure Your Environment
- Keep It Out of Sight: When not in use, store your laptop in a secure location or use a laptop bag that doesn't scream "expensive electronics inside."
- Lock Doors and Windows: Ensure that doors and windows in your home or office are locked when you're not around.
- Avoid Leaving It Unattended: Never leave your laptop unattended in public places, such as cafes or libraries, even for a moment.
2. Password Protection
- Set a Strong Password: Use a strong, complex password to lock your laptop. A strong password should include a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters.
- Enable Biometric Authentication: If your laptop has a fingerprint scanner or facial recognition, enable these features for an additional layer of security.
- Encrypt Your Data: Use full-disk encryption software to encrypt your entire hard drive. This ensures that even if the thief removes your hard drive, they won't be able to access your data.
4. Remote Tracking and Wiping
- Install Tracking Software: Consider installing tracking software like Find My Device (Windows) or Find My Mac (Mac). These tools can help you locate your laptop if it's stolen.
- Remote Wiping: Enable the option to remotely wipe your laptop's data if it's stolen and connected to the internet. This will erase all your data, preventing unauthorized access.
5. Backup Your Data
- Regular Backups: Backup your important data regularly to an external hard drive or a cloud service. This way, you won't lose critical information if your laptop is stolen.
6. Install Security Software
- Install Anti-Theft Software: Consider using anti-theft software like Prey to help you track and recover your laptop in case of theft.
7. Document Your Laptop
- Record Serial Numbers: Keep a record of your laptop's serial number, make, and model. This information can be crucial for filing a police report or an insurance claim if your laptop is stolen.
Laptop Insurance: Check if your homeowner's or renter's insurance covers laptop theft. If not, consider purchasing a separate insurance policy for your laptop.
Remember that no security measure is foolproof, but by implementing these precautions, you can significantly reduce the risk of laptop theft and increase the chances of recovering your laptop if it's stolen.
What To Do if Your Laptop is Stolen
- If your laptop is stolen, the very first thing to do is report it to the police. Make sure they know about it and can start searching for it.
- Get in touch with your financial institutions. Let your banks and credit cards know about any sites where you may have automated your account information. They can help freeze any cards and get you new ones!
- Change your passwords! On your emails and all sites where you may have sensitive information make sure that you’ve updated your passwords.
- If this is a work laptop, notify your employer. It’s possible that they use some form of device management software (like Prey) and can help locate the laptop or perform a remote wipe.
- Report loss to the manufacturer. Some of them will open stolen device cases and can help with device wipe, etc.
But what happens to your dear laptop after it is stolen? Where does it go? Basically, what do thieves do with it?
Places Your Stolen Laptop Likely Ended Up
With all the mentioned above from the data received from you guys, we compiled the most recurrent places your laptop might end up once it reaches the hands of a thief. In no particular order:
One of the most common places these poor orphaned laptops can find themselves at is pawn shops. Yup, they get pawned! OK, that was most definitely not funny. Puns aside, pawning laptops can be a very efficient way to get rid of stolen goods since the cash amount they receive is very easy to spend.
If you know a pawn shop around your neighborhood, and Prey is even slightly reporting near it, go and check it out. Tell the owner you’re looking for a laptop, and roughly describe yours, but be subtle: you don’t want to raise any suspicion. If you’re lucky enough, you might find your stolen device, and the worst thing that can happen is having to buy it back for a modest price.
Immediately sold to the highest bidder
Once your laptop gets stolen, thieves will want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. They might sell it right out on the street to anybody willing to pay—money and the risk—for a suspiciously cheap laptop. Sometimes, they even do it around the corner from your own home, and you could even get a report with a picture of someone you know.
This is difficult to trace, especially for devices stolen by people who had the chance of snatching an unattended good and aren’t regular thieves. Once the police recover a device, offenders claim they bought it from someone on the street, and only face charges for buying stolen goods instead of thievery. Anyway, there’s a pretty good chance of recovering devices this way.
The black market
We have records of people recovering their devices up to a year after they were stolen; this is most likely because they found their way into the black market. Sometimes they end up almost anywhere in the world, so the possibilities of recovery decrease dramatically.
Countries where these goods are desired and very expensive are ideal destinations for these objects, and it’s very hard to track how or where they operate. Devices in the black market might be recovered using Prey, but only if the police is willing to help, and after the new owner starts using the computer.
Social media: @buyer Very cheap laptop on sale #totallystolen
Laptops can also be found online being sold in places that host freely advertised classifieds, like Craigslist. Furthermore, thieves also use social media to contact possible buyers willing to pay the price. All thieves need is to put some fancy hashtag on Twitter, or post it on a popular page or group on Facebook.
Devices sold this way can be recovered just like any other case we just mentioned: someone buys the laptop, uses it, and gets busted by Prey. Even if that person didn’t know the computer was stolen, you will still get it back.
Professional crime gangs
The members of professional crime gangs might have not studied to become criminals, but they are a group of people who have become pros when it comes to stealing electronic devices, cleaning them, and then selling them. They are dangerous because of their organization and computer skills; usually, one of them knows how to wipe hard disks, delete all traceable data, install operating systems, all of which make it almost impossible for you to track and get your device back.
There’s little hope of retrieving your device if it was stolen by one of these gangs. The good news is that this is not something that happens very often.