What can I do if my computer or laptop was lost or stolen?

Lost computer

If you have lost a computer or laptop, the first thing you should do is re-trace your steps, to try and remember where you may have left it. If you think you may have lost it at a retail store or at a school, check with the store's employees or the school' staff to see if they found a computer laying around.

After re-tracing your steps, if you are unable to find your computer, you can try contacting the authorities and reporting your laptop as lost. Might be a long shot, but your computer may get turned in by someone that finds it.

Computer theftContact authorities

Anytime you have been a victim of a crime, that incident should be reported to the authorities. Often if you plan on claiming the stolen computer for insurance, you need to have already filled out a police report. Reporting the incident immediately after the crime saves you time in the future.

Home: If your house was recently burglarized, you should immediately contact the local authorities to file a report so that if in the future your computer is found, it can be returned.

Office: If you believe a fellow employee has stolen your computer, immediately contact Human Resources, IT, or someone in management. If company confidential information is on the computer, that should also be mentioned.

School: If your computer has been taken while you were at school, talk to your teacher, principle, lost and found, school officer, or other school staff that can assist you in reporting the incident.

Other public location: If your computer was taken while at a public location, such as an airport, bus, coffee shop, gas station, library, taxi cab, etc., report the incident to the authorities or someone at your company, like human resources, IT, or someone in management. In most cases, you should file an incident report with the police.

Protect yourself

Before worrying about getting the computer or laptop back, you should first protect yourself. The following steps will require you to have access to a computer. So visit a friend, neighbor, relative, school, library, work, or somewhere you can get a computer with Internet access.

  1. Log into any sensitive accounts (e.g. bank accounts, online e-mail, PayPal, eBay, iTunes, IM, etc.) and change your password, just in case that information was saved on your other computer.
  2. If you have any other sensitive information on your computer that could be used by a thief, such as bank pin number, bills, credit card information, cell phone, etc., make sure to contact the company in charge of your accounts and see if the account can be changed, flagged or monitored.
  3. Contact your computer manufacturer so they can make a note in their database that the computer has been stolen, in case the thief tries calling support.
  4. Learn more about identity theft, since the likelihood of you becoming a victim has now increased.
  5. If your computer had company confidential information, government related information, or stored personal information of other people, you should notify your employer immediately.

Trying to get it back

Before getting your computer or laptop back, you need to have the serial number or model number so it can be identified. If you do not have records of this information, contact the manufacturer to see if they can provide you with this information.

  1. As mentioned above, make sure to notify the authorities, employees, lost and found, etc. with your report of a lost computer. Often if your computer is found, they need to know how to contact you.
  2. Leave some not so sensitive accounts such as your Instant Messenger, distributed systems, YouTube account, Flickr account, MySpace account, etc. open and watch the pages for activities. In some situations, the thief may use the account because it automatically logs into the page. This information could be used to help identify the person.
  3. Visit local pawn shops and watch the local paper want ads for a few weeks, to see if the thief is trying to pawn it or sell it off.
  4. Place an article in the want ads with your computer description and serial number, and mention a reward for returning your lost computer.
  5. Visit online sites, such as http://www.stolencomputers.org/, or if you are in Europe, visit the E.R.E.S.C., which is dedicated to listing and finding stolen computers.