Nobody plans to lose their gadgets, but anybody can make a few moves ahead of time to up their chances of getting their stuff back, whether with the help of good-natured finders or subtle tracking tools. Here are our favourite post-theft tools.
Image via jasonsrobb.
10. Replace a Lost or Forgotten Charger for Free
How many times have you left a wall charger behind in a hotel room? If your answer is "zero", well, you're a lucky person. Most of us, though, know the easily forgettable nature of gadget chargers. If you're ever without yours—because you left it at home or left it at the last hotel—simply ask the front desk to look through their "cord spaghetti". Most hotels (and car rental agencies, and some airlines) have a good number of BlackBerry, iPhone and other device chargers sitting unclaimed under the counter, and they're all too happy to lighten their stock.
9. Encrypt Your Web Passwords, Don't Store Them Locally
Simply put, your passwords aren't secure, at least if they're sitting on your computer in most systems. You can use a Firefox master password that's more than eight characters with mixed letters, but you've got better options. We're big fans of the any-browser password syncing tool LastPass, but we've also found other password managers, like a KeePass setup, to be a smart way to keep your passwords all in one place, but not a place a ne'er-do-well could get to them.
8. Keep Your Name and Number Handy for Good Samaritan Finders
Not everyone's out to get your stuff. Once in a while, a good person feels for you when they encounter your lost phone, laptop or wallet. Keeping your name and a phone number in your wallet is simple enough. On an iPhone or iPod touch, you can used a Notes screenshot as your lock-screen wallpaper, and do something similar on Android or other phone. Digital cameras and video devices have SD cards where it's easy to digitally "sign" your contact info, and do the same for thumb drives.
7. Ensure You've Got Alternate Emails and SMS Verification Set Up
Maybe your gear never makes its way back to you. Perhaps you can't track it, or wipe out its data remotely. The one saving grace you can ensure you have is master control over your web-based email, documents and other data. If you're a Google user, make sure you've set up your account so you can recover and reset your password via SMS, and perhaps enter in a spouse or close friend's number instead of your own, since your phone can go missing. Most other web ecosystems—Hotmail/Windows Live, Yahoo, AOL—offer similar account recovery tools, with alternate email address and SMS options. Take the three minutes now to set it up, and save yourself the 24-hour headache later.
6. Prevent Theft in the First Place
We're obligated to point out that the best way to hide your stuff is have it out in plain sight, but it's also not a bad strategy to make it so ugly nobody wants to jack it. Those are among our favourite ways we've seen of protecting your stuff from theft, some of which have a strong post-theft application, too. If a thief looks at your gear and finds it too hard to use, or thinks it's likely being tracked, they might just leave it where it is. (Image via mitemite)
5. Include a Great Photo Message on Camera Memory
If you found Andrew McDonald's camera, the first set of photos stashed on the memory card of the Australian children's author tell a story about how and why to contact him. Not that stashing a text file on the card with your contact information on it isn't also a great idea, but being seen as a human being by your lost-object finder, rather than an anonymous person with an unknown amount of inconvenience, is a strangely powerful tactic. (Original post)
4. Encrypt Sensitive Data on Your Hard Drive
You probably don't need to encrypt everything on your hard drive, because there's not a lot to learn from your Half-Life 2 sessions. But your home folder, your financial documents, your Dropbox and other spaces have stuff you'd rather not let into the wild. We like tools like TrueCrypt for encrypting your data the right way, but modern systems also come with built-in tools, like Windows' BitLocker or Apple's FileVault (which we compared in a showdown). Whichever way you go, keeping your essential data locked down from those without passwords is a huge pay-off that you hopefully never have to experience.
3. Install a Remote Wipe for Your Smart Phone
There's a chance you may never find your laptop or mobile phone. There's an even greater chance that somebody who's now got access to your email, address book, and personal files can find something to take advantage of inside that device. So set up your system so you can wipe it remotely. On Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Mobile phones, there's WaveSecure ($19.90/year), and Android users can also try Norton Security's beta app (comes with 100-day subscription, pricing unavailable), the free service iTag, or craft their own personalised phone tracking tool with the Tasker app. iPhone owners are kind of stuck with Apple's $119/year MobileMe service, which can both track and remotely wipe out your phone's data, but it does seem fairly effective.
2. Cover All the Bases to Get Your Thumb Drive Back
If you name a file on your portable USB drive "If Lost Contact Steve Smith (321) 555-1234," maybe you'll find the right person and get your files back. Then again, you could just create a folder named "PORN," then fill it with suggestively named image files containing nothing but an image of your contact information. That's just two of the four solid methods for getting your thumb drive back that we've previously rounded up.
1. Install Prey for a Set-and-Forget Tracking System
Hardware-tracking tool Prey has a lot going for it from just a simple glance at it. It's an open-source app, it's available on most any computer system, along with Android phones, and it's free. But best of all, it's the perfect system for lazy owners. Install it, authorize it with Prey's web site, and then you do nothing until it's actually stolen. Flip the switch on the site, and then Prey gets to work grabbing webcam pics, desktop screenshots, all kinds of system and network data, and a geo-location fix, if possible. You can escalate to system lock-downs, loud alarms, warning messages, and some browser data wiping, if you'd like, but you can also just wait for someone to wise up, or make a very identifying mistake. (Original post)
What have you done with your gear to make it easier to return, or easier for the cops to find? Share your own post-loss strategies in the comments, or testify to the pros and cons of the above.