Avoiding Laptop Computer Theft

cartoon of a man hugging his laptop computer

Laptop computers have become a target of choice for thieves in Maine and all over the country. Why? They are small, concealable, valuable, can be removed quickly and there is a “hot” market for them.

The Risk Management Division is seeing a increase in claims frequency as State government increases its purchase and use of laptops. Some claims are not covered by the State’s property insurance and those that are covered, are covered only for the laptop it’s self. While replacing laptops is expensive, the loss of what is in the computer can often be more costly in terms of the time necessary to restore or replace the data or dealing with the loss of confidential information.

You would be amazed at how many of the claims we have received were preventable and common sense does not always prevail. Because laptops are portable, it is not surprising that many thefts occur away from the office.

Here are some traveling tips from our claim files:

1. Don’t leave a laptop in an unlocked vehicle, even if the vehicle is in your driveway or garage and never leave it in plain sight - that is just inviting trouble. If you must leave a laptop in a vehicle, the best place is in a locked trunk. If you don’t have a trunk, cover it up and lock the doors.

2. Parking garages are likely areas for thefts from vehicles as they provide wide choice and cover for thieves. Again, never leave your laptop in plain sight, cover it or put it in the trunk.

3. Do be aware of the damage extreme temperature can cause to computers.

4. Carry your laptop in a nondescript carrying case or bag when traveling.

5. Going to lunch or on break? Don’t leave a meeting or conference room without your laptop. Take it with you or it probably won’t be there when you return.

6. Flying to a conference? Never check a laptop as luggage at the airport because they disappear. The Federal Aviation Administration has issued a warning about an increasingly common scam- stealing laptops from the conveyor belts of metal detectors. Wait for those ahead of you to pass through the metal detector before placing your laptop on the belt.

Another airport scam: one person will engage you in conversation or bump into you and their partner in crime will steal your laptop while you are distracted. Be alert.

Laptops have disappeared from State offices as well. Remember, since most of our buildings are public, extra care is necessary.

Lock the laptop in your office during off- hours and if you don’t have an office, use a cable lock that wraps around the desk or chair leg. Or better yet, put the laptop in a locked closet or cabinet.

Don’t let unaccompanied strangers wander around in your workplace. Offer assistance and deliver the person to their destination.

If a theft does occur, you must report it to the police department promptly. Users should have the make, model and serial number available so police can file a complete report and enter the stolen laptop information immediately on the national crime information computer. If you have backed up your data, all will not be lost for you. If you have sensitive and confidential information in your data, consider using encryption software.

In response to increased usage and loss frequency, the Department of Health and Human Services established laptop policies and we urge others to follow suit. A good policy informs an employee of their responsibility when assigned a laptop, provides safe handling tips, and makes the employee accountable for safe use and storage of the laptop.

A little precaution and common sense goes a long way in controlling the laptop theft exposure.