Dear Lifehacker, I recently had my bag stolen with my laptop and smartphone inside. I haven't installed any anti-theft software on it. Is there any way I can track it? I'm desperate here! Sincerely, Lost Laptop
The short answer: it's unlikely you'll ever get your stuff back. Even with anti-theft software, there's no guarantee, but we constantly recommend installing software like Prey for this very purpose. If you don't have tracking software installed, it's obviously much harder to track your stuff. And if your thief is even the slightest bit intelligent, he or she would wipe your device straight away, making it virtually impossible to track.
However, you do have a last-ditch effort or two up your sleeve. Here are two things you might want to try.
Track Your Device's IP Address with Gmail or Dropbox
If your laptop or smartphone was stolen, you can use a service like Gmail or Dropbox to find the IP address of your thief. When you log into those services from any computer, it logs the IP address used and displays your last used IP in your account. In Gmail, it's in the bottom right-hand corner under "Details". In Dropbox, it's in Settings > Security, under the details of each individual computer. If the thief used your computer, the last logged IP address may reflect that. But if the thief didn't use your computer, this trick won't work.
Of course, knowing their IP only gets you so far. You would still have to file a police report, get the internet provider linked to that IP address to work with you and find out where the thief is located, which could take a long time (one reader told us it took him a month to go through the process). We've had readers email us with success stories using this method, but they are few and far between. Whatever you do, don't try to track the thief down yourself and get your gear back. That could lead to all sorts of trouble.
Track Your Android Phone with Plan B
If you have a phone running Android 2.3 or lower, previously mentioned Plan B is a pretty cool option. You can install it remotely from the Google Play web interface, after which it will start tracking your phone. However, if your thief has turned off the device, turned off internet connectivity or wiped your phone, you're completely out of luck.
Sadly, there is no equivalent for the iPhone, since you can't remotely install apps on iOS.
Whatever You Do, There Are No Guarantees
In the end, there's a good chance you'll never see your stuff again, even if you did install tracking software beforehand (though there are quite a few success stories out there). If the above tricks don't work, you can file a police report and give them your serial number, but there's not much you can do beyond that.
We can't stress this enough: the best way to avoid this situation is to take precautions ahead of time: install software like Prey, LoJack for Laptops or Find My iPhone. Keep your gear with you at all times. Make sure your doors are locked. The best way to keep your laptop in your hands is to prevent it from falling into others' hands in the first place. After someone steals it, you're riding on luck.
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