How to track your stolen laptop or phone

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One of the great advantages of having a laptop computer is the portability.  You can just pick it up and take it anywhere, and these days you can find a wifi signal in lots of public places.  However, there is a downside with that portability benefit – laptops are easily stolen.  One minute you are sitting in an airport waiting for your flight, you turn your head for a second, and before you know it you are missing a laptop.  Smart phones present the same problem because they are so small.

stolen laptop

If you have ever had a laptop stolen, you know that there is very little chance of recovering it.  Sure, you can check Craigslist for someone trying to sell it, and you can check with the local pawn shops.  But the reality is you might as well plan on buying another one.


Unless you take a simple precaution ahead of time, and install a FREE program on your laptop that will allow you to track it after it gets stolen.

(Here’s the sad part of this… at some point in the future, one of you will be thinking, “Why, oh why didn’t I just install that little program on my laptop when Scott told me about it?  Now I’ll never get my laptop back!”  Will that be you?  I hope not.)

The free program is called Prey.  You can get it here.  On the site, click “Log in”, then click the green button that says “Not registered? Sign up!”

Here’s how it works:  you install this little program on your computer.  It really doesn’t do anything until you “wake it up”.  Should your laptop get stolen, you can send the “wake up” message from any other internet-connected computer, or even as a text message from your phone.

When the program is activated, you are able to gather some important information – including its location.

Here are some features:

  • 100% geolocation aware (this can be done via GPS, if the device has it, or through the use of nearby wifi signals).
  • Does your laptop have a webcam?  Take a picture of the thief without his or her knowledge!
  • Grab a screenshot of activity – you might even catch the thief while he’s browsing Facebook or reading his email (no webcam is needed for this feature).
  • If you want, you can even completely lock down your PC remotely – so the thief will not be able to use it at all.

There are paid versions of Prey, for individuals or companies with lots of machines to keep track of, or if you want some more advanced reporting features.  But for most people with a single laptop or smart phone, the free version is adequate.

Check out some of the stories of how Prey helped people get their laptops back:

stolen laptop recovered

stolen laptop recovered

stolen laptop recovered


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Larry O'Grady
January 23rd, 2012

Wow, that’s some program! Guy’s laptop was recovered 9 weeks BEFORE it was stolen! Now that’s impressive…

Scott Johnson
January 23rd, 2012

That is funny – I didn’t even notice that typo from their site. Obviously they haven’t either. Sounds like that Tom Cruise movie where they arrest someone who is THINKING about committing a crime.