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Dealing with Computer Theft

Friday, November 2nd, 2007 by | Filed Under: Security Help
 
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Q:
The other day, you gave us some suggestions on how to prevent computer theft, but what if it’s already happened? What are we supposed to do if our computers are stolen? It hasn’t happened to me, but I did have a friend who had their laptop taken from them and I’d just like to know what we’re supposed to do in that kind of situation. Please share any tips you may have!

A:
There’s nothing like being prepared and that’s exactly what you’re doing for yourself by asking this question, so I give props to you! Yes, the other day (on Wednesday to be exact), I wrote an article that gave you some tips on what you can do to prevent your computer from being stolen. That tip was mainly for laptop owners, because they often have their laptops with them wherever they go, but it could happen to desktop owners as well. If you use a desktop computer, you’re not exempt from the theft that goes on from day to day. It could happen to anyone!

If you’ve ever had your computer stolen, you know how stressful it can be. It’s always an unfortunate thing, but there are some things you can do to fight it. These are things every computer user should know, so even if it’s never happened to you, it’s a good idea to keep these things in mind. I really hope it never happens to any of you, but like I said before, there’s nothing like being prepared just in case. Below are a few suggestions on what you should do if your computer is taken from you. Let’s take a look!

1.) Contact the Authorities – As with any other crime, computer theft should be reported to your local authorities as soon as possible. If your computer was taken from your home, you should report a burglary so that a statement can be written up about your missing property. The sooner you do that, the easier it might be to find your computer and get it back to you. Also, if your computer is stolen, you’ll probably want to put an insurance claim on it and insurance companies always ask for a police report, so you’ll just be saving yourself some time in the end.

Now, what if you have your laptop with you outside of your home and it’s taken from you? What do you do then? Well, for example, if your laptop is stolen while you’re at the airport, always notify the airport security about the situation. They will be able to write up an incident report for you there and then get the police involved if need be. Or, maybe you take your laptop to work with you. In that case, it’s always possible that one of your fellow employees will take it. If that happens, you should contact one of your superiors or even the human resources department. They should be able to help you in that type of situation. No matter where it happens, always contact a superior and they should be able to help you get things straightened out.

2.) Always Protect Yourself – After contacting the authorities, you should then worry about protecting the information that was on your computer. To do that, you will need to be on a computer, so if you can, use a friend’s computer, go to the library, a school or just any place that has an available computer with Internet access. Once you’ve found a PC to use, you should do the following:

  • Log in to any accounts you had set up on your computer (bank accounts, your e-mail account, PayPal, iTunes, eBay, any instant messaging accounts, etc.) and change your passwords. If that information was saved on your computer, whoever stole it could have easy access to all your personal information, so you want to shut that avenue down right away.

  • If you have any other sensitive information saved on your computer (any of your bills, bank PIN numbers, credit card information, cell phone numbers and so on), you should contact those companies to either flag your account or change it altogether. Some companies can even monitor your account for you, just to be sure no unusual activity is going on.

  • Next, you should contact the manufacturer of your computer to let them know what has happened. They can make a note in their database that your computer has been stolen and if anyone tries calling in for support on it, they can notify you.

  • You should also take the time to learn more about identity theft, because with your computer gone, you’re at more risk of it happening to you.

  • Depending on what you use your computer for, you may have some of your work information saved on it. If any of it is confidential company information, government related information or stored personal information of others, you should notify your employer right away so that they can take the necessary steps to protect themselves as well.

3.) Getting It Back – Once you’ve taken care of everything else, you can then think about getting your computer back. You will definitely need your computer’s serial and model numbers, so if you don’t have that information written down, contact the manufacturer and they should be able to get it for you. You should then give that information to your local authorities as well. That way, if they happen to find your computer, they will know exactly what to look for and they can easily contact you about it.

You can also try leaving some of your “not so sensitive” accounts open to see if any activity occurs on them. For example, a MySpace account, a Facebook account, a Flickr account, a YouTube account, etc. If you log in to those accounts from another computer, you will be able to see if anyone else has been using them. If you do notice some activity, that may help in identifying the thief. You should also keep an eye out at local pawn shops and even in the newspaper want ads to see if the thief is trying to sell your computer. You can even try placing an ad in the newspaper for a lost computer. Make sure you describe your computer the best you can and include its serial number. You may even want to offer a reward if it’s found. One last thing you can do is visit such Web sites as www.stolencomputers.org. Their main purpose is to list and find stolen computers, so they may be able to help you out as well.

Hopefully some of these suggestions will help those of you who have gone through the awful experience of computer theft, as well as, preparing the rest of you just in case it ever does become reality. Stay safe!

~ Erin

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