Question of the Week
My brand new HP Pavilion laptop was recently stolen from my room in the college. How can I track it down?
-- Kamal Gazmer, Sherubtse College
Sorry to hear about your stolen laptop. If it's any consolation, you're not alone. Hundreds of thousands of laptops are stolen each year, mainly from airports and educations institutes, as in your case. Now, how to recover that laptop? The hard truth is that most stolen laptops are never returned to their rightful owner, so prevention is often better than cure. That being said, tracking down your laptop is sometimes possible if it runs a device tracking software, which is software that can help track down your laptop by reporting its location and other relevant information. Most new laptops do not come pre-installed with this type of software, so one needs to install the software, and the sooner the better.
There are many tracking software options, but most of them are not free. Among the free options, I recommend installing Prey (www.preyproject.com). After installation, you create an online account and register your computer. If your computer is stolen or lost, log on to your www.preyproject.com account as soon as possible (you'll obviously need to log in from another computer), and mark your laptop as missing.
Here's what happens next. The Prey software waits until your laptop connects to the Internet, and then starts sending reports directly to your email address. These reports will include information that can be useful in tracking down your computer, such as the geographical location of your laptop, the names of the nearest Wi-Fi networks, screenshots which might give a clue as to the person currently using the laptop (especially if he or she are chatting on Facebook!), and even a photo of the thief if your laptop has a webcam - as many laptops do these days. Examining these reports can sometimes help locate the culprit - and the laptop.
Many people discover that the main heartache caused by a stolen laptop is actually not the hardware, but the information that was stored on it: family photos, important documents, confidential information, etc. So while it might be a good idea to install Prey, there is no guarantee that it will help retrieve your precious toy. Thus, make it harder for the thief to access the laptop files by protecting your Windows login account with a password. And, at the risk of repeating myself in this column - make sure your important information is backed up, preferably online.
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