What To Do When Your Laptop Is Stolen

July 16, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Online Marketing

Happy Thursday, everyone!

I had a super great post all ready for you today. It was on astroturf marketing and was in response to New York being awesome and fining Lifestyle Fit $300,000 for their extravagant use of fake reviews. You probably would have loved it. It would have earned me the industry street cred I’ve been lacking all these years. But you’ll never read it. Why?

Because my laptop was stolen out of Rae’s house last night. So now you get a different kind of post.

Ready?

What to do when your laptop is stolen

Throw things, kick pillows: When you wake up and discover that the shiny blue laptop you left on the dining room table last night is, in fact, no longer on the dining room table, you’re not going to be filled with joy and rainbows. In fact, you’re going to be filled with the kind of rage and disbelief that makes you want to throw and kick things. I encourage you to embrace this. Yell a bit. Kick things that won’t hurt you and/or shatter (ie pillows). And get it all out. Once that’s done, it’s time to be a grown up and move on to number two.

Notify the police: Even though the chances of your laptop being recovered are pretty slim, you still need to file a police report. This will give you a record of what happened, may protect you from identity theft issues in the future and will also help the police monitor whether these types of thefts are on the rise. If they notice they are, they may be more inclined to step in and do something about it.

Change all your passwords: You know your Gmail password that was saved? The passwords for your online banking? The ones for all your work-related sites? Social media accounts? Yeah, they were all compromised the minute some asshat walked away with your laptop. Change them. Immediately. I was lucky that my computer was password protected, but even so, I’m now spending my morning changing everything to help protect myself from future theft. It’s actually a fun way to spend a Thursday. Right up there with getting hit in the face with a shovel.

Cancel every credit card you’ve used online: If you’ve used a credit card from your machine, call, cancel it and get a new one. Even if you think the number isn’t saved anywhere, do it anyway. Don’t take the risk. If you’re especially worried, you may also want to subscribe to some sort of identity theft protection service to make sure your personal information hasn’t been comprised in any way.

Notify clients, if affected: If you were storing any personal information for clients, access to their sites, passwords, etc, notify them immediately so that they can change. Outspoken clients can rest assured that they’re all fine and I have backups of all that data (just not my own). You’re okay. It’s me who’s going to be kicking myself for weeks.

Keep an eye on Craigslist, eBay and local pawn shops: People are awesome and criminals are dumb. Over the next few weeks, keep an eye out on Craigslist and eBay to see if anyone’s trying to sell off your stuff.

How can you protect yourself better for next time?

  • ThiefEncrypt sensitive data: Encrypting your information won’t help you retrieve it once its stolen, but it will protect it (and you) should someone get their grubby hands on your prized machine. Most computers running Windows XP will come with a built-in encryption system that owners can take advantage of. If you’re using Microsoft’s Vista Business edition, your computer has BitLocker, which will make it nearly impossible for anyone to get information off your laptop. I don’t use a Mac, but I hear they come with a pre-installed security orb that zaps you like dog breaking through an invisible fence.
  • Regular backups: As Rae once said, only you can protect yourself from data loss. I don’t regularly back up my computer (now is not the time to yell at me about this, BTW), so I’m in a bit of a pickle now that my machine is gone. I’ve lost a series of blog posts, both for Outspoken and others, there’s some client work I’ll need to make up, contacts I’ve lost, and emails I’ll have to dig out and retrieve off the server. It’s a hassle. And it would be far less of a hassle had I backed up my machine like a responsible Web user. Learn from my mistake and store your important information on an external hard drive.
  • Know your laptop’s serial number: Turns out this is really important information to have when you’re reporting a missing laptop. Naturally, I didn’t have it. My middle name is Awesome.
  • Invest in laptop tracking software: If you just lost super secret squirrel information on your laptop, maybe now’s the time to invest in some laptop tracking software like Absolute. Most computer manufacturers will offer a LoJack option at purchase. At the time I declined because I didn’t think my half-written blog posts were important enough to warrant that. I’m rethinking that decision right now.
  • Insure your laptop: Remember back when you purchased your computer and they asked if you wanted to purchase insurance with it? You’re kicking yourself now, aren’t you? Next time maybe opt for it. Additionally, your business insurance may provide coverage for lost or stolen computers. Or, if not, and the machine was stolen out of your home, your homeowners insurance will likely pick it up. Of course, that may also raise your premiums so check to make sure it’s worth it.)
  • Don’t trust someone not to unlock the front door after you locked it and told them to go to bed: Lesson learned.

Pardon me, I still have some more passwords to change.

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