Having a laptop stolen is a situation that no one ever hopes to find themselves in. In fact, many people view a theft like this as something that will never personally happen to them. The unfortunate reality, according to an oft-quoted FBI statistic, is that a laptop is stolen every 53 seconds in the United States alone. Given this staggering statistic, it’s important to know what steps to take to minimize the damage caused if and when you do fall victim, as well as what you can do proactively to help prevent and/or mitigate the situation (More on that to come soon in Part 2 of this blog).

In the unfavorable event that you confirm you have become a victim to laptop theft (and not a victim of temporarily misplacing it in another room of your house), the first thing to do is remember not to panic, but to focus on immediately taking the necessary actions that are recommended here:

  • Report the theft to the appropriate authorities – This process will differ slightly depending on whether it is your personal laptop or one that is owned by the company where you are employed. In either case, it’s recommended to notify law enforcement so that a formal report can be filed. You’ll want to provide important information such as the serial number, make, and model, which agencies can sometimes use to become aware if the device is sold at a pawn shop, etc. If it is a company device, you should also notify your employer immediately as well. Most IT departments (hopefully) have set procedures in place for this exact event, and can work on assigning you a replacement. 
  • Remotely lock or wipe the device – Assuming these features have been properly configured ahead of time, you can opt to lock or even wipe the device remotely the next time the laptop is connected to the internet. If there is personal, sensitive, or even confidential data accessible on the device, and you have a recent backup, this prohibits the thief from being able to do anything with it.
  • Contact your financial institutions – Especially if you’ve ever used that laptop for any sort of shopping, banking, or transactions, contact support at these agencies to freeze cards, monitor your accounts for suspicious activity, and subsequently keep a close personal eye on your statements in the months ahead.
  • Change your passwords and disable autofill – Yes, this is a pain. Most of us have dozens, if not hundreds, of different accounts on various sites and services. It might be inconvenient, but you have to consider that there is a real possibility the thief has access to your saved credentials. At the very least, you should absolutely change those associated with your email accounts and other sites dealing with sensitive information. Hopefully you’re using a password manager for your credentials, and if so, make sure to sign in on another device and turn off autofill in your browser.
  • Sign out and deauthorize the laptop from your cloud accounts – Keep in mind that the stolen device is likely signed into a number of apps. Most of the time, you can login to these accounts via a browser and access the settings. Specifically, look to navigate to the page where it lists your authorized or signed-in devices. From here, there should be an option to force sign out and remove the laptop from the list of approved devices.
  • Contact the laptop manufacturer – Admittedly this may not prove fruitful, but it doesn’t hurt to take the extra step. Some manufacturers, such as Dell and ASUS, have programs where the verified owner (you) can report the laptop as stolen and they open a case internally and flag the device. In the event the thief attempts to file a false warranty claim or contacts tech support for help with your device, they then relay this information to law enforcement.

Having a laptop taken from you that contains so much (ahem, ALL) of your life on it is an awful feeling. The reality is that this is a crime that has occurred, does occur, and will continue to occur. While you can’t prevent crime from ever occurring, with these steps in mind you can be prepared for how to respond. Check back soon for Part 2, which will cover the proactive steps you should take beforehand, to be even better prepared.