Today, electronic gadgets play a central role in the way that you work, play, communicate and stay organized. Unfortunately, in 2012, more electronics are stolen than any other type of property, including cash. Apple’s iPhones and iPads top the list of lifted gadgets, but other brands of smartphones and tablets, as well as cameras, MP3 players, GPS devices, laptops and e-readers are also being lifted with increased frequency from vehicles, bags, college campuses, homes and pockets. Your personal electronics spell “payday” to thieves, who quickly dump stolen gadgets on the black market — including shady pawn shops and online marketplaces such as eBay and Craigslist — to make easy money, sometimes several hundred dollars per device. Savvy thieves can use your browsing history or saved payment profiles to swipe your credit card or banking information, Social Security number or other personal information, wreaking havoc on your finances and credit score. While stolen gadgets are often unrecoverable, there are some general security measures you can take to prevent theft, as well as some device-specific solutions you can use to recover your device or minimize its value to thieves.
The best way to protect your devices is to never leave them unattended, especially in plain sight. While it might be inconvenient to pack up your laptop and carry it with you for a bathroom break at the library or to remove your GPS from the dash before running into the convenience store, these measures are a simply way to prevent theft. When commuting on foot or on public transportation, keep your electronics close to you, ideally in a bag that is difficult to open without you noticing. Small metal clips, such as the free “Gear Guards” being passed out by the NYPD, slip between two zippers on your backpack or laptop bag, making them more secure. Small devices like phones and MP3 players are safest in your front pockets, but avoid patting them or pulling them out frequently, as this alerts thieves to their location.
As device theft increases in frequency, developers are working overtime to release apps that aid in tracking or disabling lost or stolen gadgets. One such program, Prey, can use Wi-Fi signals or internal GPS receivers on your phone, tablet or notebook computer to track a thief’s movements, and it can even remotely harness the webcam or camera on your device, snapping a photo of the perpetrator. Other devices come pre-loaded with software from the manufacturer, such as HTC Sense, that you can use to lock or track your phone, wipe information remotely or even trigger an alarm. These measures only work if you take the time to install them or register before theft occurs, so be proactive.
Keeping your electronics safe from theft is increasingly important, especially if you use your gadgets for banking, shopping or otherwise storing or transmitting sensitive information. With vigilance and forethought, you can keep your valuable gadgets from falling into the wrong hands — or render them useless if they do.
[Image via Parabal]