Never Worry About Losing Those (not-quite) Smart Devices Again

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A laptop is stolen every 53 seconds. This means that one tenth of laptops ever bought are either stolen are lost, usually along with all the data on it. Only three percent make it back to their owners. And 70 million smartphones are stolen every year – seven percent of these are recovered. Considering that half of all mobile device users keep passwords, personal info, or banking data on those devices, the chances that your information will fall into the wrong hands are too high to simply ignore.

Don’t get too worried though – most malicious users of information are after business information at major and profitable corporations. The worst that will likely happen to the average user is that their device will be stolen. Nonetheless, this is a scenario you want to avoid. So how do you?

According to the FBI, 23.6 percent of stolen property – in value – is recovered. Adjusting for larger items being pursued more aggressively, this doesn’t give the average laptop owner much hope for ever getting their data back. And we all make mistakes that can lead to a theft – forgetting about your device at a coffee shop, among many. Other than simply being careful, there’s not much you can do beforehand. So what are you to do when your laptop is stolen?

As part of being powerful computing devices, laptops and phones have the capability to prevent themselves from being stolen, given that you “teach” them how to. In 2011, Joshua Kaufman’s laptop was stolen. Police said they didn’t have enough resources to help, which is often the case for low-priority crimes like laptop theft. However, Kaufman had taken the precaution of installing a piece of software called Hidden. With this turned on, he was able to see where his Macbook was, use the camera to take pictures of the thief, and to see what the criminal was up to on his computer. In just a few months, he had it back. Hidden is only available for Macs and costs only $15 dollars a year.

If you’re running a Windows machine, Lojack for Laptops costs $40 a year and can do the same thing as Hidden, as well as deleting sensitive information remotely. If you pay for the $60 premium version, it will contact the police for you if the laptop is stolen and will provide up to $1,000 for you if it is not able to recover your device.

Now as I mentioned earlier, millions of smartphones are stolen as well. A great free solution is installing Lookout Mobile Security, which is a free anti-virus and backup program for Android OS, Blackberry, and Windows 7 phones. You can track a lost phone’s location even if the SIM card has been replaced. For your iPhone, Apple has the “Find my iDevice” app, which allows you to find your device on a map and message your contact info to it in case a good Samaritan happened to pick it up. You can also wipe all the data on your devices in the opposite event.

No matter which device or application you use, there are a few steps that you should always take. One is to set a password or passcode. Every smartphone and laptop offers this functionality and in the case of losing it, a password will protect your data longer and allow you to take steps for recovery. Another step that will never go amiss is simply to keep your devices with you. It’s always worth it to take the extra second to check your pockets for your phone, or to make sure you secure your laptop before leaving for the bathroom at a coffee shop. Simple measures like this can save you hundreds of dollars, not to mention time and effort.

(Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds on Call, a company based in Redding, Calif., that offers on-site computer and home theater set-up and repair. Contact her at www.callnerds.com/andrea)