Three things to do when your phone or laptop is stolen, and four things to prevent losing everything

Three things to do when your phone or laptop is stolen, and four things to prevent losing everything

There’s nothing worse than having your phone or laptop stolen, especially when you end up losing more than just photos and messages. Thankfully, there’s a way to help prevent permanent loss of your devices, and ways to help cover your back in case anything is ever taken from you.

Here’s four things to help prevent losing everything when your phone or laptop is taken from you.

1. Make a note of all your serial numbers

I would have increased my chances of getting my laptop back by knowing its serial number. But I never made a note of it. Because, as the kind woman at my insurance company said: “You don’t expect to be burgled, do you?”

Take a photo of the numbers on the back of your laptop, PC peripherals and other devices. And don’t stop there – also get close-ups of distinguishing features, such as scratches and marks.

Also take screenshots of your laptop’s (and any other devices’) identifying information. For example, in Windows 10, go to the Control Panel, click ‘System and Security’ and then, under the heading System, click ‘See the name of this computer’. Take a screenshot and email it to yourself, then print and file it.

2. Install tracking software

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Once installed on your laptop, tablet or other device, tracking software lets you see where that device is and what it’s being used for. Obviously it’s a little late to install one of these programs on my laptop (we’re firmly in “if only” territory now), but using one or more of these tools could help you to track a stolen laptop and even photograph the criminal using it.

First, if you have a Windows 10 laptop, you should enable Find My Device. Once this free built-in service is switched on, you can use your Microsoft account to find your Windows 10 device – even if it’s only slipped down the back of the sofa.

Prey is our favourite tracking program. It supports Windows 7 and 8.1 as well as 10, and also has free apps for Android and iOS. It’s free for the first three devices you use it on.

Once you install Prey, it runs silently in the background, using as little battery life as possible (handy if your device is stolen). By logging in on another device you can launch Prey remotely on the laptop, tablet or phone that’s gone missing. Not only will the program give details of where the lost device is, it’ll even silently and secretly take a photo of who’s using it. Along with the device’s serial number, that photo is the most useful piece of evidence you can give to the police.

3. Back up all your data

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Even the fanciest tracking software can’t stop a thief from wiping your stolen laptop, phone or tablet. What’s more, it’s standard practice among secondhand stores to wipe devices fully before selling them – and that’s a good thing, because it prevents data theft. But it does mean you can lose all your data by the time you find your stolen laptop.

I used my laptop for little more than watching TV online and testing the odd Windows 8.1 program, but most people’s laptops are full of photos, documents, videos and other data that’s of great practical and personal value. So buy an external hard drive and make regular full backups, ensuring you hide it away so that it won’t be stolen at the same time as your laptop.

4. Get in touch with these people, quickly

The police

The police non-emergency number is 101, though it seemed constantly engaged when I tried it. You could persist until you get through, or alternatively, report the crime online (each constabulary has its own website). The police will then give you a crime-report number.

Your home insurance company

The crime-report number obtained from the police is vital at this stage. My insurance company was very helpful, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to make a claim because my laptop was partially used for work purposes. Hopefully, this won’t be the case for you.

Local secondhand shops

These types of shop work closely with police, who check the shops’ databases every morning for serial numbers of reported stolen goods. It doesn’t hurt to give them a ring yourself, though in my case staff confirmed they don’t buy laptops without chargers.

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