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My laptop was stolen, what concerns should I have?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / August 3, 2007 4:12 AM PDT

My wife and I had two laptops stolen from our room in an upscale hotel in Norfolk, Virginia last Saturday night. My question is somewhat open-ended. Is a concern justified for identity theft from the info available on the machine? Having owned the laptops for 1 to 2 years and using them as the primary home/travel computer, it is safe to say that everything was on the hard drive. Not only the 20GB of pictures, nor the finance stuff, or the research database, or all the cookies, etc.; even the money for the cost of the computers is poof--gone. What is the concern that the community would have for such a loss: identity theft, system hijacking, sleepless nights, having to buy new ones, and so on. In the future, in case of another loss, what are some solid security measures I can use to prevent someone from obtaining what I have on my laptops?

Also, is the hotel responsible for replacement? We knowingly closed the door behind us when we went out, only to come back to a door ajar with the laptops/bags gone. We do want the hotel to review the letter that we will be sending to the local newspaper and all the travel magazines, in the event that they deny payment. Any suggestions?

--Submitted by: Dave of Onancock, Virginia

Answer voted most helpful by our members.

Reporting & Damage Control, Recovery, Preventative Measures

Hey Dave, You should be concerned. If I were you, here's what I'd do in three stages. The first two stages should be happening now and pretty close to simultaneously until complete. Part I is Reporting and Damage Control, Part II is Recovery, and Part III is Future Preventative Measures to avoid a similar situation.

Part I: Reporting and Damage Control

1) Obtain a copy of the police report associated with the theft.

2) Contact the major credit bureaus. For you AND your wife, have them place a fraud alert on your credit reports for your SSAN and hers (initial fraud alert is good for 90 days and extendable up to 7 years), tell them you want a copy of your credit report (and ask them to ensure only the last four digits of your SSAN are shown on these reports), and get and additional information or advice they can give you: Equifax ? 1-800-525-6285; Trans Union ? 1-800-680-7289 or Experian ? 1-888-397-3742.

3) Contact you credit card companies and tell them what happened; they should refer you to their anti-fraud department or some department with a similar name. They should offer to transfer your balance to a new card number and send you new cards. If fraudulent purchases have already been made, ask them how you go about disputing the fraudulent charges.

4) If new, fraudulent accounts have been opened, report it to the local police where the account was opened and to the FTC (see step 9 below). Obtain an ID Theft Report from the local police and/or the FTC. While waiting for the latter report, contact the company with whom the account was opened. Tell them it is a fraudulent account and a case of ID Theft and a formal report will be forthcoming, and ask the company to explain to you how to go about disputing any charges.

5) Contact your bank and other financial/investment institutions. They should offer to change your accounts, also.

6) Do the same for any and all accounts you have that could be compromised: eBay, PayPal, BidPay, whatever.

7) Do the same for mortgages or car loans or personal loans you have.

Cool Contact the police where you live and let them know what has happened, especially if you feel your safety is in question (most likely it is not, but still do it).

9) Report what happened to the FTC's ID Theft Hotline-1-877-438-4338 and ask them for any help they can provide

10) Notify the Social Security Adminsitration, 1-800-772-1213. Let them know what happened. Get it on the record. In some instances, if fradulent use of you number occurs, you can get a new number.

11) Now either take the money you have out of savings or borrow money in order to pay off all outstanding credit that you can; then close the accounts. Close the accounts means when you pay the balance off, tell the creditor you want the account closed.

Part II: Recovery

12) Report the theft to your household goods/homeowner insurance carrier. Many policies cover personal items stolen while traveling and some even offer coverage so you can have your locks changed at home, the cost of new drivers license if that number is compromised and must be changed, and more.

13) If your insurance company says you're not covered, or if you do not have coverage, get a lawyer to look at your policy and to explain the laws in Virginia regarding hotel liability in a situation such as this.

14) Open new accounts as required, since you closed all the old ones. Whenever possible, open the accounts such as MasterCard, Visa, whatever, with entirely new companies; that is, different companies from your previous accounts.

Part III: Future Preventative Measures

15) Subscribe to a credit monitoring service that monitors your credit and immediately reports significant changes in same; i.e., large purchases, unauthorized purchases, etc.

16) Do not store any personal information on your travel computer's hard drive. If you need personal information when you travel, keep it on a flash drive. After you use your computer on-line when traveling, run a sweeper and washer to clean all traces of your surfing off the laptop.

17) Back up your laptop's hard drive at home on an external hard drive so you don't loose what's on your hard drive should this ever happen again.

Finally, vote for politicians who support the death penalty for ID Theft -- just kidding ;>)

--Submitted by: Eradikator

If you have any additional advice or recommendations for Dave, let's hear them! Click on the "Reply" link to post. Please be detailed as possible in your answer. Thanks!
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Backup, Backup, Backup
by GRPDiver / August 3, 2007 11:24 AM PDT

Obviously, backup data on a regular basis; especially before traveling when risk of theft increases. Also, for financial data, consider subscribing to Quicken Online Backup if you use Quicken. You can buy encryption software to encrypt the data so a thief can not get to your data. Don't forget physical security such as security cables and keeping your backup stored away from your computers.

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Stolen laptops
by Watzman / August 3, 2007 12:17 PM PDT

First point: Yes, you most likely have a real identity theft concern any time any computer is stolen (also, by the way, any time you dispose of a comptuer without wiping the hard drive first ... and erasing files and even repartitioning / reformatting the hard drive isn't enough. The data must be overwritten).

It's likely that files on your hard drive have your date of birth, social security number, userIDs and passwords (for various things), and credit card numbers. If you use Quicken, TurboTax or any other financial software, or if you keep personal records on your PC, there is a LOT more information present.

The good news: Most thiefs are only interested in the hardware. But the risk is still there and very, very real.

How can you prevent this? Several ways, some more practical than others:

-Don't keep anything sensitive on the laptop (not very practical)
-Password protect the laptop itself (hardware password) and Windows logon, also as many files as you can. Practical and easy, but frankly not very effective. Almost all of these can be beaten.
-Encrypt the data: Both the ease of doing this and the effectiveness varies greatly from data type to data type. The most secure way is with "Bitlocker", a new Vista feature. Unfortunately, it's not even present in EITHER of the "Home" versions of Vista. Further, with secure encryption (even NTFS' EFS) the risk of having a problem that locks you out of your own data is very substantial.

A hard drive password, if your computer supports this (some do, some don't) is VERY effective ... without the proper password, the hard drive cannot be accessed (even if it's taken out and put on another computer). The philosophy here is that the data is more important than the hard drive itself and will be protected at all cost even if as a consequence the hard drive is effectively destroyed. Hard drive passwords are implemented entirely within the hard drive and there is no easy way around them (even gross things like getting a board from another identical but "unlocked" hard drive won't work). But, again, there is a risk of being locked out of your own data.

It goes without saying that if you have adequate backups, the loss of data isn't a big concern, rather the concern is having the data fall into the wrong hands. Of course if you have no backups then you have two problems: The wrong person may have the data, and you yourself don't.

Normally, state laws (in almost every state) limit the liability of hotels to a fixed and relatively small amount (which also means you cannot sue for more). Basically you are probably totally out of luck. Theft from hotel rooms is common, "wise" people are supposed to know this and act accordingly. When I'm traveling with a laptop, I always try one other means to prevent theft .... HIDE it. Often, hotel rooms have a windows along most of one wall with floor-length drapes, I put the laptop case behind the drapes. I also have a "Good" laptop and a "beater" laptop (a model 3-4 years old that is not worth all that much, less than $200)), and unless there is a good reason for it, I travel only with the "beater" laptop.

Your homeowners insurance MAY cover you on the cost of the laptops. Often, however, the loss of the data (both the fact that the wrong people may have it and you don't) is the FAR greater issue.

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by crcalderon / August 3, 2007 12:19 PM PDT

I suggest doing two stapes: First, with all the information you have about you complain presented to the hotel, write a letter to the hotel that you will set this complain to the ?BBB? ( but gave them only a week to them answer your letter favorable and document everything to use this for ?BBB.? Second, you have been written to the hotel, if you do not get an answer favorable to you, sent this hotel to ?Small Calm Curt.?

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Who is at fault?
by CHRIS1u / August 18, 2007 12:37 AM PDT

What basis do we have to conclude the hotel is at fault? If a car is broken into, is the auto maker necessarily at fault? If a house is broken into, is the construction company at fault? Certainly none are at fault merely because it happened...there must be some proof of negligence or fault.

We live in a world of clever thieves, and the possibility of theft or worse haunts us at every turn.

We seem to have adopted a societal attitude that whatever unfortunate event befalls us, someone else should bear the loss, and compensate us.

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by shanedr / August 18, 2007 1:32 AM PDT
In reply to: Who is at fault?

While hotels will always disclaim liability and courts may agree with them, they still have an obligation to provide reasonable security for your possessions, that's why the doors lock. They also are responsible for your safety while you are on their premises. Unfortunately it appears that only the more expensive provide that care.

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Lost of Laptop
by sbg4884d / August 3, 2007 12:55 PM PDT

I propose to enable the BIOS password for protection. If you lost your laptop, the theft unable to start the system and read the information on the hard disk.

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Sorry, the BIOS password is fairly useless
by Watzman / August 17, 2007 11:42 AM PDT
In reply to: Lost of Laptop

The BIOS password is fairly useless (although, I guess, anything is better than nothing).

First, information on how to bypass BIOS passwords is very readily available for most laptops.

Second, BIOS passwords don't secure the hard drive .... all anyone who wants access to the hard drive has to do is take the hard drive out of the computer and connect it to another computer.

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I completely agree
by adelacuesta / August 17, 2007 12:26 PM PDT

I had a laptop which was stolen in Brooklyn. It was equipped with bios password. The 'new' owner called Compaq's customer service ang asked for help to have it unlocked. I eventually got the new owners info and forwarded it to NYPD, which by the way did nothing, they (NYPD) said no casualty involved.

When HP realized that my laptop was stolen and has been registered to the new owner, they stopped giving info nor communicating with me saying they are protecting their clients identity.

Well, just sharing my unfortunate experience.

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New Owner Of Stolen Laptop
by WebAnt / August 18, 2007 5:33 PM PDT
In reply to: I completely agree

Well,if a person knows who the new owner of their stolen laptop is they could probably haul them into small claims court even if the authorities will not prosecute them for theft. Then the civil or small claims court would subpenoa the company they(the thief) registered your computer with to release any information concerning their new client. The burden of proof in small claims or civil courts is less than that in criminal courts so the victim of theft would probably be able to win the case and get whatever amount of money they are suiing for. Justice served. If that does not pan out,you could always slash the new owner's tires in the middle of the night,smash their lights with a hammer,rip off their mirrors and windshield wipers,and smash their windshield. Try to make as little noise as possible. That should be sufficient payback.

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I realize...
by WebAnt / August 18, 2007 5:38 PM PDT

..that my above answer is going to offend somebody but I do not believe in letting criminals get away with criminal behavior and if the law forces me to be a criminal in order to teach a criminal a lesson then so be it. Anyway, I am not talking about smashing the new owner's face in. Just smashing up their vehicle. By no means am I encouraging anyone to engage in criminal behavior. I am just saying what I would do if it was me in your shoes. That guy would pay. One way or another. Take care.

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Use Pointsec or similar to encrypt the drive
by pj-mckay / August 17, 2007 7:14 PM PDT

Not all BIOS passwords are easily cracked, and most of the data on the web is only valid on really old kit. You try cracking an IBM laptop code? I've had to buy new systemboards when staff left in a hurry. But as you rightly say, the disk can simply be inserted into another unit OR slaved via a converter cable to another PC.

'Pointsec' , on the other hand, encrypts the full drive and disables access TOTALLY even if you try installing it in another PC. It's a fantastic tool BUT does rely on you not forgetting the password. In this day and age Pointsec or similar is a MUST-DO. Yes you can reuse the disk by fdisk/reformat, but at least you have peace of mind that all your data has been shredded.

Think of all the autologon data most folk have. Ebay, Paypal, Bank Accounts.... Do you really want pondlife to get a hold of that? No. Everyone has to take responsibility now!

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by gojirah / August 18, 2007 11:21 AM PDT
In reply to: Lost of Laptop

The BIOS password is easy to overcome by disconnecting the back-up battery then reconnect and the BIOS goes in-to its default mode.

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You're dreaming!!!
by pj-mckay / August 18, 2007 5:47 PM PDT
In reply to: BIOS

Maybe 10 years ago. Now you're looking at new system boards which means buying a new laptop in reality. I work with IBM and Dell every week. These cannot be overcome by the rubbish you read on the internet or a night in the freezer (which used to work). Trust me. I'd have to assume most others are the same these days.... and anyway, it's irrelevant if you just slave it to a normal PC. A couple of pounds buys you an IDE adapter cable and the data is anyones. Personally my data is more important than my actual laptop.... I can buy another laptop but I can't buy back my data.

If you've got a newish laptop try locking the bios and let me know how you get on with the internet tips. If you can overcome it so easily there's no point in having it, but I'd be more than surprised if you can. Post back the laptop model if you can!

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Sure... back when Windows 95 was out.
by sbill / August 30, 2007 12:57 PM PDT
In reply to: BIOS

It is true that most older laptops stored the BIOS password in the CMOS memory, which could be easily circumvented by disconnecting all power sources, removing the CMOS battery, and waiting 5-30 minutes. Most Pentium II's, and many Pentium III's were designed this way. However, I know of NO laptop newer than a Pentium III that can have a BIOS password reset in this manner.

All modern laptops store the BIOS password on an EEPROM on the motherboard. Depending on the manufacturer's policies, you may be able to get them to reset it if you are the owner, or you may have to go through the hassle and expense of changing out the motherboard, or attempting to unsolder the EEPROM and replace it. Since a laptop motherboard costs more than a new unit, very few people go this route.

Very few people who steal laptops are going to have the knowledge and skill to change out a motherboard, let alone to try and replace a chip on it. So at that point, the computer probably ends up in the garbage, or is stripped for parts.

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Laptop Security
by rodavlas50 / August 3, 2007 12:56 PM PDT

I have always worried that someday I would come home and find my laptop gone too. Although this may not sound like much, I have found that setting a password in the system's CMOS is usually a good security measure. Another place that I have entered a password is in the Windows boot-up. I don't mean the log-on but the part BEFORE you are asked to log in (IF you have that active)! Placing these DOUBLE passwords and making SURE that they are both DIFFERENT and can only be remembered by you and ONLY you has kept many individuals OFF my laptop. I would make sure that the passowrds are NOT about something personal or related to you in ANY way so that NO connection can be made or association be made as to what they might be by another person who may or may not know you. I hope this helps you in the future with your new laptops. Also, make sure that you BOTH have unique and DIFFERENT passwords from each other, even if it is a hassle to remember FOUR passowrds. At least you can carry these in your wallet if you feel secure in doing so.

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Sorry just pop it into an external drive
by carolina1 / August 20, 2007 10:28 PM PDT
In reply to: Laptop Security

Then use a linux OS and I'm copying your MS files. Linux OS's will often open MS formatted drives that have boot sector errors that will not let you start the drive.

You assume that a machine and OS needs to be started to take the data.
They don't want the software, just the data.

I travel frequently and I stopped at onepoint and looked at my hard drive. I realized that I had files like taxes05.xls in my folder marked "personal files". How stupid was that?

Even if I used an excel password, you can download programs on the internet that will unlock that security.

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I run laptop lock on mine........
by coolsystems / August 24, 2007 11:36 AM PDT
In reply to: Laptop Security

I run a program called "Laptop lock" on my laptop.You can lock it out from booting,& all that stuff,but the thing I like,is that when someone goes online with it,I can track their location by going to laptop lock's web site.I mean I may never find it,but at least it gives me hope,& if I can get the ISP to work with me(or the authorities),it can be tracked to a physical address by using the IP address.

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Dealing with the loss of your laptops
by Desert _Rat / August 3, 2007 1:05 PM PDT

If any personal information, e.g. social securitiy numbers, drivers license numbers were on either laptop; and/or if financial information like credit card numbers, bank account numbers, passwords to financial institution web sites, etc. were on either laptop; then you are a sitting duck for identity theft - which, if it hasn't already happened, will happen before you read this.

I would notify each of your credit card issuers that your cards are compromised and ask for new ones. I would notify each financial institution with which you deal, open new accounts, immediately empty your old accounts into your new ones and close the old accounts. If you receive income via direct deposit you'll need to redirect those payments. If you have been doing any kind of payments via direct debit to a bank account or credit card, you'll have to change those arrangements. There's probably more you need to do I haven't thought of that others may. MAIN POINT: YOU GOTTA GET ON THIS ASAP!!!

Regarding your hotel: You might be able to embarass them with the press (and might have a painful conversation about slander with their lawyer if you try.) As for recovering the cost of your loss - forget it. I've never been in a hotel that didn't make it very clear that they accept no responsibility for guest losses of items that were not commited to the hotel for safekeeping. You might have been lucky enough to have stayed in a hotel which will cover the costs of your lost laptops, but that's a very low probability.

For future reference: Any laptop user is at risk for this kind of experience. IMHO there are two protections:
1. Don't allow any personal or financial information to get within 10 miles of a laptop with which you travel.
2. If you can't do 1., then take the trouble to encipher everything on the laptop that could compromise security of your identy and financial status.
2. Use long, complex and mixed letter and number passwords.
That's all a big pain in the ***, but far less painful than dealing with what faces you now.

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lock up your valuables; don't take 'irreplaceable' on trips
by jposhea3 / August 3, 2007 1:05 PM PDT

I tend to think the risk of identity theft is overstated.

As a general rule, criminals steal items that can be readily converted into *cash*. They're stealing your gear to sell it to someone, not to use the data that is on it. Is the end-buyer interested in what's on it? Maybe not. Maybe he/she is just interested paying $400 on a street corner for a laptop rather than $1,500 in a store (yes, buyers of this stuff have no conscience). But there are a few steps you should take anyway to watch out for 'bad things' that can happen to you just from using credit cards in stores and the like, as well as having your equipment stolen.

You can put alerts on your credit reports and on any other financial accounts detailed on your laptop by contacting your financial institutions. Google "ftc identity theft" for a government website on what to do in detail.

Obviously you're going to want to cancel and reissue your credit cards if the account numbers are on the laptop (in software configurations or in PDFs of bank statements).

Note that the credit card numbers are also something that can be readily converted into *cash*. Stealing a credit card or a credit card account number is not "identity theft", it's just plain theft. Using card numbers, account numbers, personal identifying info (date of birth, social security number, home address, mother's maiden nme, etc) to open up *new* accounts is identity theft. The more common problem is called "account takeover", where a thief directs your financial instituion to change the address on the account to his, not yours, to reissue credentials (atm card, social security, drivers license, passport, etc) for that account holder to the new address, and then uses the resources in that account to his own ends (opening other accounts in your name, using the securities in your online brokerage account to trade and drive up the price of securities the thief holds in another, legitimate, account already, and other 'indirect' means of converting your assets into cash, or leveraging your assets to increase the value of something he can turn into cash on his own without drawing attention to himself.

Protecting yourself in future: The hard reality is if I have the physical hard drive, and I'm determined, there's little you can do to defend against me with easy to use commercial tools. Windows has an encrypted filesystem feature, but there are (as there are with all such products) tools available over time that attack weaknesses in the storage of the 'keys' for that encrypted hard drive.

Manufacturers are starting to put hardware encryption actually into the hard drive mechanisms so an attacker would have no choice but to reinstall the operating system if he couldn't provide the right passphrase, but if you pick weak passwords, or write them on post-it notes taped to your laptop, then you're wasting your time if you think you are gaining something from any security tool.

New laptops include fingerprint scanners to make it easier to 'open' up stores of other credentials, and I think those are the beginnings of good user friendly technology. Because they are not foolproof, however, there are still alternate methods to get the data, ie a static password to log in to windows in case you get the sensor all cruddy or if your fingers get so dirty/greasy/unreadable that you cannot successfully log in thru the scanner. But I think the technology is promising (the gummy bear nonsense aside) in that it's easy to use, and it puts security into something that you're a) not likely to forget (you dont leave your fingers at home by forgetting to bring them with you) and that b) you couldn't readily make usable by other people by leaving them with the laptop (unlike passwords-on-post-it-notes). That said, the fingerprint is just a shortcut for *that* laptop to open up all your other passwords. If your data/applications use passwords you've GOT to take responsibility for choosing hard-to-guess ones that are easy to remember. There's tons of info on this around the web. Google 'choosing good passwords' and I'm sure you'll have reading for months.

I'm going to assume both laptops, at the very LEAST, are configured to require you to provide a username and password on startup. This is optional in many variants of Windows and MacOS, but it's the barest minimum any conscientious person should do to protect their data. If, after reading Dave's story, still think "hey, it's my laptop, not the company's, why should I make it hard for me to get at my stuff?", then you are Dave the night before this event happened, and you won't wake up until you're robbed like Dave was.

To protect data stored on the local drive hardware you could use something like PGPDisk to create another lettered drive (D:, E:, etc) which requires a passphrase to mount it (ie more than just logging in to Windows), and store all your data there (I say 'all' rather than 'all sensitive' because humans are creatures of habit, and you're more likely to *forget* to move something to that encrypted virtual hard drive if you only use it for 'some' items. But you've got to choose a *strong* (ie long and complex) passphrase for it to be useful. You want to make it harder for a thief to get the data, more work, more digging around - something you did *not* do by carrying your equipment in laptop bags (see more later on this). Again, that passphrase might be stored locally, depending on the product you use to create the encrypted virtual disk, but it's better than nothing. A purpose-built security tool like PGPDisk might be more likely to take strong countermeasures against a physical attack than a security 'feature' of an operating system like WIndows or MacOS (because PGPDisk's sole function is to provide security, its developers are focused on it - the OS developers have *lots* of competing design criteria on their plate beside 'security' when building the operating system).

Another glaringly obvious alternative if you're serious about preserving the stuff you *don't* need to travel with is: Don't Travel With It. Keep your long-lived items on an external drive at home. You wouldn't carry your photo album, college diploma, birth certificate, deed to your home, title to your car, etc, with you everywhere you go, so why carry your financial accounts, photographs, etc. in electronic format, particularly if it's your *only copy*.

Liability of the hotel: Nope. This one's your fault. They disclaim any and all liability for valuables left in the room, and they say so on their website and on the terms and conditions sheet you sign/initial when you check in, as well as on the signs on the back of the door.

If there's a safe in the room, you should have used it. If you insist on keeping valuables in your room (which, face it, we all do because it's 'easier' than using the hotel safe or lockboxes behind the front desk), they should have not been in any obvious container (camera bag, laptop bag, etc), and the bag they're in should have been locked.

Your goal is to raise the degree of difficulty for the thief. Theives steal because it's easier than working for a living. The more like 'work' you make it, the less likely you are to be a victim.

Laptop bags are like carrying around a 'hey, steal this bag' sign. Don't use them. You made targeting you *trivially easy* for the thief. I'd bet they didn't watch every room, but that they heard you say the room number aloud in the lobby or in the elevator while you were loaded down with very obvious "hey, computers are in here" luggage. They didn't try every room on your floor and leave all those doors open. They went to yours because they knew there was gear there. Worst case: hotel staff colluded with them to provide targeting information (I sound cynical, eh?).

Hope this helps and serves as something other than a complete "serves you right."


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Laptops/ID Theft
by katzke / August 17, 2007 10:09 AM PDT

I have to say that the main reason people are stealing laptops is not to resell them for the minimal cash they would get, but to get the personal information on them and sell that over and over again. The best thing you can do is get yourself covered with a protection plan. Go to and get the ID Theft Shield. I believe you would also benefit with a Pre-paid legal membership that you can get at the same place. The hotel is not responsible for your valuables but a letter from an attorney might get them to replace the laptops. However, you are at risk for your personal information being used and who knows what they are going to use it for. It's not only a credit thing, if they can get enough personal information, they will generate a new drivers license and use your privledges. This could end up with speeding tickets or DUI on your record. I can't stress enough that you need to get covered right now! It can be too late very quickly with these types of thefts.

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I had that happen to me
by bc66 / August 17, 2007 3:16 PM PDT
In reply to: Laptops/ID Theft

Dear folks,

In the late summer of 2001, two children were to be placed in my home due to their parents having drug problems that rendered them unable to take care of them, because they could not provide the basic things that the children needed. In September of 2001, the Massachusetts Department of Social Services placed these two children with my family who now range in age 8-years-old to 12-years-old. Part of the placement meant that both of the parents, whom the children were removed from would have visits with them. At the time, one of the parents, the father was incarcerated in a federal prison for drug related offenses.

When he came out, he would also have supervised visitation with the Department of Social Services at my house on a weekly basis. The social worker and a person from Catholic charities were assigned the details of providing the supervision.

In 2003, the children were about to be adopted into our care by the Department of Social Services. The mother had her parental rights terminated and the father gave up his rights voluntarily. This meant that he would have visits and the mother would be able to have pictures of the children and limited visits. The problem was that the supervision for the father had terminated since we were about to adopt them, which happened in October 2003. This made it somewhat of an open adoption on the part of DSS in Massachusetts to allow the father would have visits as long as he did not give trouble to the children.

My situation happened in November of 2005, when one of my sisters was in the hospital and the adoptive parent of the two children had to go to the hospital to be with that sister whom was diagnosed with Lung Cancer and did not have long to live. The father whom the children were removed from had been at my house at the time doing some repair work on my bedroom and at the same time, babysitting his two children. The mini makeover had actually started the day before Halloween in 2005, which its purpose was to ready my room to put down a new rug that was bought at Home Depot a week earlier. It was during the painting and wallpapering of the trim phase that the situation which I am about to explain took place.

Whie the father of the children was there doing the work and babysitting the children, he had fead them some macaroni. At that point I noticed that he was acting strangely towards the youngest of the two. He kept repeatedly saying, "You gotta eat," "You gotta Eat," "You gotta eat." The child needed to loose weight. Because of his strange behavior, I became nervous and lit into him. He shoved me in my bedroom, which he was doing work on. Two days later, after the makeover had been completed, I went to check out my newly cleaned bedroom only to find my laptop and my palm pilot missing. I had suspected that the father, whom is my brother had done this all along, because he seemed arguementative with the adoptive parent of the child, because he wanted to take the younger child with him, while the oldest one had been invited to one of her cousin's sleep over. The parent had been dopey behind the refrigerator thus, making the adoptive parent not think that he should have the younger child with him. She eventually gave in and the younger child went with him for the night. Prior to and while the makeover was going on, my laptop and my palm pilot was always on a a long black table, next to my desktop computer. This long black table was my desk than and is still my desk. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to back up my laptop prior to it going a missing. My Palm pilot had its last hot sync three days before the two pieces of expensive equipment, totalling over 1,000.00. These two pieces of equipment are of vital use to me as they are my pen, paper and even my research reference as I am legally blind and hard of hearing. At the time of the mini makeover on my bedroom, I could not lock my door as the room had to air to let the fumes and smell from the paint that was used to paint my ceiling escape.

Shortly thereafter my event, the father of the two children had been arrested for some domestic related issues involving the mother of the two children who are now with us. The mother is his longtime girlfriend. He was incarcerated from February 2006-September 2006. A few weeks prior to his getting out of jail, I had contacted a friend of mine who was a lawyer and he had informed me that I could take a restraining order out on the father of the two children if he had been allowed to or had slept at the house overnight. He did not end up doing so, however, a month later, after he was out of jail, he had come to visit the two children who had been invited to a Halloween party, (October 2006). He was there doing some laundry. While waitng for his laundry to get done, he kept bothering me for cigaretts in a bullying manner. He was still on probation for his domestic related issue at the time and still is. I had contacted my lawyer and he had told me to talk to his probation officer about how he was treating me over the pack of cigaretts, of which was my last pack and that I would not be able to get out and get some for a couple of days, due to the fact that I do not drive and depend on someone to do this. He still kept at it. His probation officer told him to stop the bullying. He did not like that. Since than, he had not given me a problem.

I did also talk to my lawyer about suing the department of Social Services up in Massachusetts for what had happened as they knew that this person had a history of causing adversive behavior that has landed him in and out of prison for either drug related problems or domestic abuse problems. I was going to sue them because, with his known habits and behavior, I felt as though the supervised visits should never had stopped. To do this, it would had been difficult as first of all, a lawyer would had wanted $30,000.00 to take the case and the fact that they also had "Qualified immunity," which may had been hard to overcome. I am in the process of trying to change the law in Massachusetts to rectify this problem, so that other people who do take in children and who are adults where the placed children are going to live would have a decreased risk or even some preventative measures in place that would prevent them from becoming victimized like I was while my sister was dying of lung cancer.

The legislation is Senate Bill 60. I am now going to paste the link to the context of this bill. The link is If there are any Massachusetts residents in this forum, I urge you to contact your state senator and representative to inform them that you want this piece of legislation to report out of the joint committee on Children, Family and Persons with Disabilities.

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Keep it Simple
by SlamX / August 18, 2007 1:55 AM PDT

That reply was a bit winded.

When traveling with laptops never leave them unattended. If going out lock them in the hotel safe or trunk of your car.

Many here have overlooked the fact that most home owner insurance policies will covert his kind of theft.

Password protect your hard drive and use encryption softwares to protect your sensitive data. Good ones are Maxcrypt and True Crypt. Easy to use and efective.

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Never the trunk of the car!
by Wazu_wazu / August 20, 2007 1:52 AM PDT
In reply to: Keep it Simple

Never is a bit of a strong word here.

But the point is that breaking into a car trunk is often easier than breaking into a hotel room.

Another point, particularly in regards to hotels. Do not load your vehicle up and then drive/walk up to the front to check out. Thieves love this, they know that everything you have with you is now in the car and a quick smash and grab will result in something valuable.

Check out first, go get your car and then load up your bags.

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Stolen computer from good Samaritan
by rosiemyrosie / August 19, 2007 4:22 AM PDT

Lady, you put yourself in the middle of a total cluster-F---, when you got involved with drug addicts and inmates. Especially allowing these individuals in your home.....,and unsupervised ! We all want to save innocent children, but you are lucky that all you lost was a computer and palm device. Compassion is commendable, but not at the peril of your own personal life and security. Leave that to the professionals.

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Stolen Computer from Good Samaritan
by bc66 / August 19, 2007 2:45 PM PDT

First of all, let me keep it simple. I am not a lady. I am a man. Second of all, I do not get involved with drug addicts or immates. I don't even want any bother with those people. Yes, if you are going to protect innocent children, they, the drug addicts or immates should be supervised around young children. I do not even agree with leaving young children alone with drug addicts. Now that we got that out of the way, My situation did not happen in a hotel. It happened while someone whom was not even allowed by me, and I do not care who it is or what relation they have to me to even do the work. The person whom I live with wanted the makeover, and in fact I had disagreed and put up an aarguement about this person doing the work because I know of his behaviors.

I will bet you that even the people who are steeling these devices in hotels, are addicts themselves. When telling my story about what happened and what I am doing about it, I was making the community aware that it does happen and that I am doing something in my state that both protects innocent children and keeps a watch on these drug addicts. You know and I know that if these devices are usable, the person steeling them are going to be able to sell it to someone else to get the money they need to suit their fancy.

As to the hotel situation. My advice here is to talk to your state senator or representative and ask them to file some sort of bill mandating in room safes for guest or requiring that these hotels thoroughly and diligiently screen their help and furthermore, you do want to know what their security procedures are and their liability insurance policies are. Second of all, while in the topic of legislation, ask that a bill be filed in your state that deems it negligent for a house cleaning crew to leave your room door adjar open. This way, if they do that, their disclaimers are no good for nothing because they cannot make you sign a waiver of your rights away when being a guest to claims arrising out of acts of negligence, or wanton misconduct, example, if an employee took that laptop out of your hotel room, that is clearly negligence on the part of the employee and also the hotel, because they are not properly supervising their employees. Finally, when checking in to a hotel, inform them that you do not want room services during your stay at the hotel, with the exception of clean towels, coffee pots coffee and clean bathrooms. Finally, call down to the front desk when you are in your room and have them send up the housecleaning people when you are in the room. Other than that, inform the front desk at check-in time that you do not want any kind of room services until you check out. Anything else you might need new while you are staying at the hotel, request it by calling down to the front desk while in your room.

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lost or stolen laptom
by bevcolthorp / September 9, 2007 1:50 PM PDT

to bc66
I am a retired social worker in michigan. I guess my first question would be why did you allow parents with drug problems in your home?

Agreed the state has some responsibility but you set yourself up to be robbed. I also have to wonder why the drug abusing father was doing work in your bedroom.

stolen laptop seems to me the least of your dangers. supervised with dss workers or not. you & the workers set yourselves up for rape or even the loss of your life.

michigan supervises visits at the dss offices.


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Best Laptop Solution Ever
by benir / August 17, 2007 11:20 AM PDT

Buy a series of external drives. A 200 GB portable drive and some USB storage devices. Work off the drives. Save the files you create on the external devices always. Keep the software on the computer. In fact, put all the software you want on your machine -- and then back that drive up every month on another drive and leave that one at home.IF If your laptop is stolen or broken - God forbid, all you have to do is buy a new machine and copy the software back onto your new machine! Voila! Eat your heart out Murphy's Law.

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Laptop Theft
by YelloCuda / August 18, 2007 2:07 AM PDT

The same thing happened to me and my family. On our way to Orlando from Miami (where den of thieves run wild), thieves broke in our car at noon,at the Dolphin Mall (50 feet from the entrance) and stole ALL our luggage. This included laptops, HD video camera, PSP's including sensitive documents. Fortunately we had several passwords, or so we thought, within several day's credit card companies called us with unusual charges. Immediately, our banks were notified to be on alert and not to release anything. With only our clothes on our backs and limited cash we headed to Orlando, Universal Studios. What we thought was over, it had just started. Someone from Universal Studios Men In Black ride also stole my other credit card and used it to fill up gas.

As is recommended, cancel everything that you had, warn financial institutions to be alert and call every time the merchant that the cart is requested. I know this is a pain in the neck, but the alternative is worse.

This happened on August 4, 2007 and still news is reaching us of people trying to use the info.

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Other things to remember
by lo-tek / August 18, 2007 3:53 AM PDT

Some things that I keep in mind are:

Uusually the thief wants to turn this into cash so they are not interested in the contents of the laptop.

That being said, if it is a company laptop and domain joined notify your corporate security team so they can revoke any digital certificates that are stored on the laptop (you do use PKI don't you?) You'll also want to change your domain password as soon as possible. If your company uses Exchange you can do this via Outlook Web Acccess or have your company security team do this for you as well.

Finally, going forward, new technology in Windows Vista allows entire drive encryption (called Bitlocker) which makes the drive unreadable without the proper credentials. Thieves can't use what they can't read.

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by crackerfz / January 21, 2011 3:38 PM PST

You can try a software that keeps logs about what is happening in your laptop, including ip address changes.

You track the thief when he connects to the internet. Try this

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