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5 Things to do BEFORE your laptop is stolen

5 Things to do BEFORE your laptop is stolen
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How to Prevent a Stolen Laptop (or Stolen Phone) and the Data on It

While many criminals today are finding ways to steal information from the comfort of their home by using malware, there still exists the thief who seeks the thrill of the touch—the touch of your phone or laptop, that is.

The sad reality is that most people don’t think about preventing a stolen laptop or stolen phone until after the fact, in which case it is usually too late.

Your stolen computer and stolen phone likely contain the most sensitive information about you: banking access, important identification numbers, old tax returns. Those who have had their computers or phones stolen have found out the hard way that the clean up can be long and arduous, and most wish they would have had the right defenses to stop intruders in the first place.

Compare it to life in a castle: those who live inside know that the most precious items are within, so they have a line of defenses. The more it looks like they mean business, the less likely intruders are to attack; and even if they do, total defeat takes a lot more energy from their enemies and provides more time for the strengthening of defenses.

View these tips that follow as the moat, gate, walls, and soldiers of your personal information:

Visual Deterrents

One of the most basic things you can do to protect yourself from theft is not to invite it. If you’re in the habit of working on your laptop out in a public space, give special attention to how you care for your belongings.

With a laptop (or laptop bags—preferably ones that don’t scream “I’m carrying a laptop!”), try to keep it in sight at all times. Thieves will watch for a moment of distraction If you find that you have to leave it in your car, hide it in the trunk or cover it in some way so that a passerby could not see it by looking through the windows.

Another good preventative measure for laptops is a simple cable lock. If you’re working in a public area, these will prevent the opportunistic thief from going after your goods.

For your phone, keeping it on your person when it’s not in use (as opposed to in a purse or bag) is a safe measure.

The Gatekeeper: Your Password

If a person does happen to steal your phone or laptop, you will be wishing you had chosen something other than the word “password” as the key to unlocking your device. The usual advice is to pick a password that has a combination of letters (upper and lowercase), numbers, and symbols—even for your phone. The better your password, the better chance you have of keeping someone out (or at least, for longer).

It’s helpful to keep your computer set in such a way where your password is required when being turned on and when waking up from sleep. Some laptops even allow you to put a message on your lock screen (such as, “If found, please call XXX-XXX-XXXX”), though only the most conscientious of criminals would be swayed by such a plea if your laptop has indeed been stolen and not just lost.

Turn On/Install Tracking Software

Most devices these days come with built-in tracking software, such as Find My iPhone. One of the first things you should do is make sure this setting is enabled on your device—some even suggest doing so before you leave the store when you first make your purchase. Regardless, if you own any device, this feature is useless unless you activate it (which you should do this moment—you’ll thank me later).

Besides these free options, there are tracking softwares out there with more functionality and capability when it comes to stolen property, such as LoJack for Laptops. These options allow information to be collected as the thief uses your device, and you can even delete certain sensitive files if necessary. These companies report a high number of laptops recovered, so if you want to rest assured that you’ll really be prepared for a theft, this option may be for you. [For more information, check out this article we wrote on LoJack for Laptops?]

Record ID Numbers

My guess is that the majority of people who call to report a stolen phone or laptop have no idea what the serial number for their device is. Without this information, it’s next to impossible to prove that the wiped laptop being sold on craigslist is actually yours.

For both your phone and your laptop, find the serial number (either physically on the device or under the general information stored on the phone or laptop) and record it somewhere where you will have access to it even if you lose the device itself. For phones, there is also a number called the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity, found in the settings/general information) that identifies your phone even if the SIM card is removed. Your carrier will have this number on record and can add your phone to a missing phones list if need be. Having these numbers will help if the police do happen to find stolen devices and can confirm that they belong to you.

Back Up Your Files

The loss of a device is a tough break, but can be made easier on you if you have your files stored elsewhere. Having everything saved in cloud storage or on an external hard drive will not only save you the heartache of forever losing things both professionally and personally important to you, but it will also make the decision easier if you decide to remotely wipe your device clean. While it may seem cumbersome, backing up these files weekly (or daily, if you can afford the time) will keep you from saying “If only” when that day comes.

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