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How Not to Lose Your Laptop
by Reid Goldsborough

Link-Up Digital
October 1, 2005

What’s the worst thing that could happen when you travel with your laptop? Next to the plane crashing, it’s probably losing the laptop or the important data on it.

There are lots of ways this can happen. There are also lots of ways you can prevent this, according to Kevin Coffey, a police detective and president of Corporate Travel Safety of Calabasas, Calif. This applies to business travel as well as traveling for pleasure.

Laptops can be stolen, lost, or broken. The cause is usually carelessness, said Coffey in a phone interview.

“In the majority of cases I’ve investigated, it turns out that people were simply not paying attention to their laptop,” he said. Consider these scenarios:

  • You’re on a crowded shuttle bus, and you place your laptop with your other luggage. A thief notices, places his suitcase next to yours, and nonchalantly walks off with your laptop and his suitcase at the next stop.
  • You’re waiting in line at the airport to check in, with your laptop and other luggage beside you. Somebody drops something on the floor behind you, and you turn around to see what happened. When you look down to move your items forward a minute later, you notice the computer is gone. A thief had distracted you while his partner stole from you.
  • You empty your pockets, take off your shoes, and place your laptop and carry-on bag on the conveyer belt at the airport screening station. Everything goes smoothly, but when you next turn on the computer, you discover it’s not yours. You walked off with a laptop that’s the same brand as yours, but it belongs to someone else.
  • You leave the conference room for a break along with everyone else. Some people are still in the room, so you don’t feel a need to lock up your laptop with its security cable. The registration person has taken a break too, so a thief is able to pick up an unclaimed name badge, walk into the room, and leave with your laptop under the coat wrapped around his arm.
  • You stay an extra day after the conference is over to sightsee. You leave your laptop in your room without securing it. A thief wearing an Armani suit walks into your room while a cleaning person is working there, scopes the room quickly, says he forgot his laptop, slips the cleaning person a $10 bill while complimenting her for doing a good job, and exits with your property.

Coffey said similar scenarios present themselves back in the office as well, and that the office is, in fact, the most common location for laptop theft. “Office creepers”—thieves who dress up as maintenance workers, exterminators, and so on—go from cubicle to cubicle, looting laptops that employees leave unsecured on their desks.

Coffey presents some good tips on preventing these and other mishaps at his Web site (http://www.corporatetravelsafety.com).

One laptop security product he recommends is StuffBak (http://www.stuffbak.com), a system for affixing laptops and other valuable items with I.D. labels. The labels include a control number, a toll-free phone number, and a notice that says that anyone who finds and returns the item will receive a reward.

Short of this, you can affix your laptop with an identifiable marker, such as a piece of yellow tape, as you would a piece of luggage. This can prevent someone who owns the same brand from inadvertently walking off with your computer.

Needless to say, try to keep your eyes on your laptop, or straddle or otherwise keep in contact with it. Don’t place your laptop on the airport security conveyor belt until you’re ready to walk through yourself. Don’t leave it in plain view in a parked car.

Of course, loss isn’t the only risk when traveling with a laptop—damage is another. Laptops have built-in shock resistance, but you can still break one if you’re not careful, which will prevent you from accessing your data.

One product I recommend that can help prevent this is Brenthaven’s Duo (http://www.brenthaven.com), which is available in different sizes as a shoulder case or backpack. It cradles the laptop inside shock-absorbing material and provides extra storage space for accessories and other materials.

If your laptop is lost or damaged, an online backup service, such as those provided by Xdrive (http://www.xdrive.com) and IBackup.com (http://www.ibackup.com), can save the day.


Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway . He can be reached at reidgold@comcast.net or http://www.reidgoldsborough.com.

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