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Better tracking of your stolen laptops

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Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to evtrib@datadoctors.com.

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Posted: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 10:19 am

Q: My son’s laptop was stolen from his college dorm during a party and he had the Find My Mac system setup on it, so he was able to track it to an apartment complex nearby. The problem is that the police said that they need more information to go on as they can’t just start knocking on all the apartment doors. What else can we do? — B

A: Find My Mac is a great free option that Apple provides to anyone with an iCloud account, but as you are discovering, just having the location of the device isn’t enough in many cases. The authorities simply can’t respond to every call for a stolen or misplaced device without “probable cause,” especially when it comes to an apartment complex.

You could also try the “I know your location and if you return it, I won’t call the police” approach, but you would still have the problem of trying to coordinate such an exchange with someone that you have somewhat threatened.

If it’s looking like you will never see the laptop again, you can send a remote wipe command via Find My Mac to attempt to erase your personal information the next time it connects to the Internet.

Assuming this should prompt everyone to pro-actively install and more importantly, test out the system that they would use should the unthinkable ever occur.

I have always recommended that parents install the free tracking software from the Prey Project because it has so many other options for gathering information that can help in the recovery of a lost or stolen laptop.

Apple’s Find My Mac system is limited to showing you an approximate location, but Prey adds the ability to take a picture of the person that is using the device (requires the laptop to have a built-in webcam) and a screenshot of whatever they are using on the laptop.

The ability to get a picture and a screen shot of their e-mail account or whatever incriminating information that may be captured by the screen grab will greatly increase the chances that you will get the authorities to act, but it’s still not a guarantee.

The downside to using a free program like Prey is that you must do all of the work of contacting the authorities and convincing them to take action, which can result in nothing but frustration, depending upon your circumstances.

If you want a more comprehensive protection package, that includes help when your laptop is stolen, take a look at Absolute Software’s Lojack for Laptops.

LoJack for Laptops has all of the aforementioned features, but also includes a dedicated theft recovery team made up of former law enforcement, FBI, military and government security experts that will have a much better understanding of what your local law enforcement agency needs to take action.

It’s certainly still not a guarantee that you will get your equipment back, but for $39 a year, it certainly increases the odds while decreasing the grief associated with trying to figure out what to do when it happens.

• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Send questions to evtrib@datadoctors.com.

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