Well my laptop got stolen through no fault but my own. Over the past week, I’ve learned a good many lessons. First, let me start off with the background story:
November 18, 2011, 5:15PM – I leave my laptop inside my backpack, under a table, in the usual spot where we drop our things to help volunteer to pick up recycling content in classrooms and hallways around one particular college. It’s something outside of the college’s janitorial duties, so we volunteer to help. I only have to do it every so often as an officer of the organization, and I picked this day because I thought I had a test on another day I was supposed to do it, but I was wrong.
So I’m late, about a 1/2 hour because I got the time wrong (usually starts at 5PM, but it was supposed to be 4PM) and luckily (or unluckily) there was someone that came back. I drop my stuff, he had none, and we got out to do our stuff. We come back at around 5:50PM I go to my backpack, discover the top part was opened and my laptop was removed. We run to the hotel’s front desk (it’s a hospitality college), check lost and found and nada. We call the campus police and they come in 20 minutes. I file a report, pressed charges if they found him/her, and we hunted around to see if maybe the thief hid it somewhere because it might be to hot to move. Nothing.
There are pretty much no cameras in that room, or even the entire college. I didn’t register my PC with the campus police, so I still have to find the serial number in case the thief pawns it. I post flyers about 4 days later, offering a $250 reward if the laptop is found, or $50 reward if you have information. Even said the thief can pretend to find it and still get the reward. Nothing as of almost one week later. So what have I learned?
- NEVER leave it unattended – Don’t make yourself a victim. You leave it out without watching it, and it can get snatched in no time. Don’t depend on the possibility of a camera picking the crime up, or a seemingly innocent stranger nearby to watch it for you. Surveillance cameras are often low quality & are lucky to pick up any good details. Strangers might not notice, or even if you tell them, there’s no guarantee they’re honest, though I’ll admit I’ve done that in the past w/o repercussions. Theft due to negligence is worse than a thief taking it right out from you, b/c it’s avoidable.
- Always back-up data frequently – I luckily managed to back-up my data about 3 weeks before the incident. I probably wouldn’t have even done that if my roommate was a tad worried about wanting to back-up his laptop with something, changed his mind, and I had already opened everything up to use. Thought I might as well do it now, even though I had it for months but had yet to open the box. Lucky I did. I’d recommend backing up at least 2 times a week.
- You might miss the data more than the hardware – My HP laptop is a mid-range type, it was pretty good for around the $800 price tag, but it had busted external sound speakers, a missing hinge, and the vent slightly busted all after one or two terrible falls. Hardware is easy to replace, but data created is almost impossible to recreate if you didn’t back-up. Again, if you got data worth saving, please do so, because you can’t get it back if it’s gone.
- Document your laptop information – Know the serial number, model, price, features, distinguishing parts, and even take pictures of it in case it ever gets stolen. The cops can use the serial number to track if it hits a pawn shop or gets recovered in evidence in another crime. I had trouble finding mine, and still do, because I didn’t bother to properly do so in the first place. I at least got the model type down.
- Register your laptop – If you can register your laptop with the PC maker, college police, or even city/county police, do so. It’s one less thing you’ll have to do when your laptop is stolen so they already have all that info. there.
- Password protect – You don’t want the thief to access your important files or anything, so password protect with a good strong password. It might be a barrier if you have to log back-on, but it’s worth it. Even nosy friends sometimes might stumble upon your laptop when you’re not looking. Of course, they can still wipe the drive and start fresh, but at least they won’t get your stuff.
- Mark your laptop up – Set your laptop to be easily identifiable by leaving your mark on it in someway. Like maybe throwing a bunch of stickers, getting an inscription, permanent market, leaving something in the battery case, a hinge mark, replace a keyboard key with a stylized color one, anything. Take a photo of the distinguish mark with yourself in a place that isn’t common. At least it offers some sort of proof it could be yours if you had contact with it before. NOTE: You might not want to if it’s something you think you might try to resell later.
- Have flyers ready – If your laptop does get managed to be stolen (negligence or out-right theft) or even lost, you go to do what you can to salvage it. Make a flyer now, with a photo of it, anything distinguishing on it and who or where to contact to return it or give information to the person. Even a reward maybe. One less thing to do later.
- Check pawn shops or online classifieds – If it got stolen or taken, the thief might try selling it online or through a pawnshop as being used, with a wiped hard drive. Even though the police might do this themselves, it’s worth giving it a try yourself if you might want to expedite the search, rather than to leave it to the cops to possibly solve your case right away. Craigslist is one example.
- Consider tracking services – Like Lojack, Adeona, and others are something you can consider if you have the money or patience in dealing with it. Some of them may erase everything remotely, or even let you take a snapshot or video of the thief with your webcam. NOTE: A savvy thief might easily look out for these things and disable them on spot rendering them useless.
Hopefully these 10 lessons can help prevent or soften the blow of having your computer or probably anything of your stolen. Just don’t be dumb, and if it happens, think of ways you can get it back.
This was by far not the best experience. I’ve had a digital camera and my Zune stolen in a similar fashion and I felt like I should have learned by now. I just did it regardless at the time, because I felt it was a low risk with almost nobody in the college that late on a Friday evening, and assumed that there were cameras or other people nearby that would deter a criminal away like the other times we’ve left our stuff under or at the table. Never going to happen again if I can avoid it.