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How to Locate a Stolen Laptop

written by: Donna Buenaventura•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 11/2/2011

Only a small percentage of stolen laptops are recovered. Using pre-emptive measures, you can maximize the chances that your laptop will be one of the few to find its rightful owner.

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    Stolen Notebook: One Every Minute

    Laptop security to prevent stolen laptop Think of this scenario: You're in a rush but it will only take a moment to park the car and drop off that letter you promised. You get back to find the car window smashed, and your laptop containing personal information and the next week's presentation is missing. What are you going to do? It really depends. If you're one of the people that intended on securing a laptop, but didn't get around to doing it, then the chances of recovery are very slim indeed.

    There's always the chance it could be found by police by accident as they arrest people, but did you copy down the serial number from the base? Is it marked in some unique way? Not only do you lose the laptop, but if the laptop information is accessible from the operating system, you could stand to lose much more. Below are the list of prevention tips and recovering a stolen laptop.

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    Laptop Security Software

    There are services and software available that will trace a stolen notebook or home computer. The only requirement to use a laptop recovery service or software is an active Internet connection.

    A stealth approach can be used by either hidden software running on the machine, or even embedded on a specific device. It is normally activated when the thief powers the laptop on, and makes an Internet connection. The laptop calls home and reports the IP information, which can help the enforcement agencies locate it.

    • GadgetTrack - The software to track your laptop, iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry or Android-based mobile only costs $19.95. This is an inexpensive laptop and mobile security software to help track the lost Windows or Mac OS laptop and other devices. The vendor offers a 30-day trial version without the need for credit card information, but a valid e-mail address and of course, a strong password.
    • Micro LNTS - a lost notebook tracking system. This allows remote recovery of files, securing of files and folders and comprehensive logging. There is two types of service subscription - lite and premium editions, which cost $12 and $32 per year, respectively.
    • LoJack - LoJack is embedded into the machines BIOS. It allows remote actions to be applied to the machine. The laptop will be tracked via Global Positioning System (GPS) or Wi-Fi connection. The software to track lost laptops is quite popular but it is not cheap when compared to GadgetTrack and Micro LNTS tracking software.
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    Stolen Laptop Prevention

    Follow these steps to prevent becoming a victim of stolen notebook, to easily recover it or prevent the bad guys in using your personal information and other valuable data on the computer:

    • The rule of thumb is not to leave any valuables behind. It's not safe to keep your laptop in the car or coffee shop table because it's quite attractive to thieves. Keep the laptop near or with you at all the time to prevent becoming one of the many victims of stolen notebook.
    • Write down the serial number of your device. These numbers invariably become purposely defaced, but that isn't the end of it. There are other ways to find the serial numbers, such as by entering some characters in a phone keypad, the box and sales invoices.
    • Mark the machine in a way that would not normally be seen or noticed. Securely mark your machine in conjunction with police forces. This is more useful than you might think because a machine matching yours may appear on a local market stall, or in a local newspaper ad.
    • Though many people are afraid of using them because of the implications of forgetting, there is always the power on password, or hard drive password. The machine could still be lost, but any data should be safe if the device is password protected. Passwords can sometimes be recovered, at a price but it requires documentation to prove ownership. Your average Joe isn't going to cough that up readily, and in any case, it would be difficult, unless the required documents were in the laptop bag!
    • Protected and unusable machines are to most people, useless. In the case of a protected hard drive, it is simple to swap the drive out, so your data is safe, while the thief would still get to use a free machine, if you didn't have one of mainboard embedded solutions.

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    Final Words

    Don't depend on login passwords to protect your data. To anyone who wants it, your data is easily accessible. A hard drive password is good, but a power-on password or passphrase is better. Enter the word carefully when you set it up since you could lock yourself out of your own machine, maybe for good! PC vendors should be able to help if you receive a message that the PC is protected by a password.

    Always leave personal computers in a secure location. If you have to leave the laptop in a car, place it in the locked boot, a locked compartment or similar location. Mark the machine in some way and remember, the more obscure but visible to you the better. Even the most vigilant user may suffer a loss, but with a bit of luck, this article might in some way help you minimize the damage, or even result in a happy ending!


  • Image credit: By Everaldo Coelho and YellowIcon [LGPL (], via Wikimedia Commons