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Protect Your Laptop: How to Thwart Thieves

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 11/16/2011

Laptops are often left unattended in a lecture room, dorm or coffee shop, making them a prime target for thieves. With a few basic steps it is possible to significantly reduce the chance of your laptop being stolen.

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    Having a laptop can be a risk. Laptop theft is enough of a problem that several insurance companies have created new businesses built to specifically insure against the possibility of your laptop being stolen. Besides investing in insurance, there is more you can do to protect your asset, as well as help track down a laptop which has been stolen.

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    Easy Targets

    Laptop thieves are sometimes simply malicious peers looking to get something for nothing, but often times the thieves who make off with laptops are professionals who make their living through theft. These professionals like to steal laptops because they are easy targets. They're portable, they are usually protected by only the most basic passwords, and they are easy to re-sell online or to local pawn shops. There isn't much you can do about the last point and the second point only comes into play if your laptop is already stolen. Ideally your laptop should stay firmly in your possession, and to do that you need to address the first problem: portability.

    A laptop can be picked up with one hand by a thief in less than a second. Even so, every thief wants to make that second as painless as possible. Getting caught in the act is a sure fire way to end up in jail. As a result, a thief will always prefer an easy target, one which is easily accessible and relatively unguarded.

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    The Most Important Laptop Protection Rule: Make Theft Difficult

    Protect your Laptop at school from thieves 

    There are many ways you can thwart this. The number one method is to simply never leave your laptop unattended. A thief isn't going to steal your laptop while you're looking at it. Of course, for many people this really isn't a practical solution. You might need to turn around to discuss a topic with a study partner or you might walk over to purchase a cup of coffee while your laptop is behind you on a table.

    These situations are not ideal, but there are a few things you can do to make them less dangerous. For example, you can place textbooks on top of your laptop before you stand up. A thief who wants to make off with the laptop would have to move your items before taking the laptop, making him or her much more conspicuous. What you don't want to do is put your laptop in your backpack in an attempt to hide it. This simply makes the laptop more portable, and you might lose other possessions along with it if a thief has been looking for a target.

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    Parting is Sweet Sorrow

    Inevitably there will be times when you need to part with your laptop. Perhaps it will be left in your dorm room, or in your car, or in your locker. You can't have your eye on your laptop all the time, but you can still protect it.

    Out of sight, out of mind. A thief can't steal a laptop if he or she doesn't know a laptop is around. Many people like to carry their laptop in a case made just for a laptop, such as a laptop sleeve or small shoulder bag. These items look cool, but they scream out to thieves that you have a laptop. Some companies make traditional backpacks with padded laptop compartments, and these are less likely to attract attention.

    If you need to leave your laptop in a car or in a dorm room, make sure all doors are locked and keep the laptop out of sight. If the car has a trunk, put the laptop inside. If there is no trunk, try slipping the laptop underneath a seat (just be careful if it is rainy and the floor is wet). Dorm rooms are not as secure as you'd like to think, either, so always place your laptop in a desk or drawer so that it would take a thief some time to find it.

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    Preparing for the Possibility

    Protecting a Laptop at School 

    If your laptop is stolen, you'll need to file a police report. The police will want a description of the laptop and the serial number. If you don't have the serial number written down, do that now and place it somewhere safe. There is always the chance that the police will catch up to the criminal or that the shop the thief sells the laptop to will suspect something is wrong and call the cops.

    Another way to prepare for the possibility of a stolen laptop is to purchase software or hardware aimed to thwart thieves. One example of a software solution is Lo-Jack for Laptops, a piece of software which regularly tracks the movement of a laptop and will allow for the laptop to be tracked once it is stolen. Lo-Jack for Laptops, and other similar solutions, is extremely robust. For example, Lo-Jack includes a tracking program in the operating system and a BIOS level monitor. If the BIOS level monitor detects the tracking program in the operating system has been disabled it will simply reinstall it. Even if the thief re-formats the computer the tracking program will be reinstalled. These methods aren't perfect, however. If the laptop is simply turned off, it can't communicate its position.

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    Should I Purchase Insurance?

    Ultimately, that is up to your individual sense of risk and reward. Personally, I do not recommend purchasing laptop insurance. The best insurance against laptop theft comes from the actions that you take to make it difficult for thieves to make off with your property. Laptop insurance usually costs less than ten dollars a month, however, so it won't come as a terrible blow to your pocketbook if you do decide to enroll in it.

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