Laptop Disappearing Act

The crime scene is a familiar one: an empty spot on a desk where a computer used to reside, abandoned cables, no marks of forced entry (door had been left unlocked). Chances for recovery are slim since there's no record of the laptop's serial number, nor did it have an engraving mark or tracking software installed. And to compound the situation, the victim lost on an extensive research paper which hadn't been backed up.

Could this happen to you? Here's a sampling of incidents pulled from crime reports by the Department of Public Safety. Do you see yourself in any of these stories?

  • Angela left her laptop in the rear seat of her locked vehicle overnight, returning the next morning to find that her rear window was damaged and her laptop was missing.
  • Bobby's computer was stolen while he was out of his dorm room for about an hour. The door had been left propped open.  He didn't have the serial number.
  • Crys left her office around lunchtime. When she returned less than an hour later, she discovered that her computer was gone. Though card access was required to enter the offices, a stranger had snuck in while others were leaving the building.
  • After an afternoon nap, Dustin awoke to discover that his laptop was missing from his desk. The door had been unlocked.
  • Though the laptops had been secured with cable locks, these were forced off and the computers taken from Edi's office area during the afternoon. The room’s door had been unlocked.
  • Fan left his room door open when he went out for about five minutes. When he got back he noticed his laptop was missing. The cable lock had been pried off and left lying on top of his desk.

What can you do to protect your computer and its contents?


An ounce (or two) is worth a pound of cure. In some of the examples above, laptops were stolen even when some precautions had been taken. Consider adopting more than one of the following suggestions.

  • Make your computer unattractive to thieves. If yours has a heavy duty lock on it and one nearby doesn't, the latter is easier to snatch quickly. Thieves want to move fast and not draw attention to themselves.
  • Out of sight, out of mind. If you're not using it, stash it in a drawer or an unlikely spot so it's not within eyesight of a thief on the prowl. Keep doors locked when you're out. Don't walk away from it in a public space.
  • Scare them away. Attach an alarm device to your computer, which you can find at the Brown Bookstore for under $50.

While it's best to make sure a thief never succeeds, if your computer is stolen, a few precautions can take some of the sting out of the loss.

  • Write the numbers down. Keep the serial number in a safe place (or two). Record your computer's MAC address, and the one for the wireless card as well if you have one.
  • Register it with DPS. The Department of Public Safety offers a registration program similar to that for bicycles.
  • Lojack it. Install software that can track your computer, such as Computrace's Lojack for Laptops.
  • Backups. Keep copies of valuable information in an alternate location. Memory is inexpensive; consider purchasing an external hard drive to make the task easier.

Finally, in the event of a theft, notify DPS and have a report filed. If personally identifiable information may have been compromised, please contact immediately in case notification of possible identity theft victims is necessary (pertinent Rhode Island statutes).


Locks, Alarms, Engraving

» Tryten Technologies - locks, tie-down brackets, lockers and more
» Laptop Defender - motion detectors/alarm starting around $30
» Department of Public Safety - engraving/registration program for laptops

Tracking software

» Computrace's Lojack for Laptops - $59.99 for two years of standard coverage, $99.99 for four
» Undercover from Orbicule - $49 (Apple)
»  Brigadoon Security - MacPhoneHome | PC PhoneHome | Android PhoneHome | Chrome PhoneHome ($29.95)

MAC (Media Access Control) address

» Defining a MAC Address | Intro to MAC Addressing | Wikipedia article