I stole this laptop, can you tell me how to fix it?
Hi Mr. Dave, I've tried to reformat the PowerBook G4, but when I hold down the C button, it froze, just a light gray screen with a dark gray apple, and nothing happen. Can you please help, don't remember the username or the password.
On the surface, questions like this seem reasonable, but I'm a bit less trusting than most, perhaps, because when I receive questions like this alarm bells go off in my head: if I had ripped off someone else's laptop, this is exactly the kind of question I'd have if i didn't know much about Apple laptops.
So here's my standard response:
"I can't help you with this kind of question. Take it in to an authorized repair center so you can demonstrate legal ownership and they'll be able to help you out."
Since I'm not going to answer the question posed, let's instead take the space to talk about ways you can ensure that your own laptop, Mac or PC, isn't stolen.
Ditch the Geeky Computer Bag
First off, the obvious: don't travel with it in an obvious computer bag and don't have a vendor logo on the bag either. There are some very nice alternative computer bags that look like backpacks, messenger bags, or even book bags, but still protect your valuable gear. A good site to see options is eBags. Me? I have a great, tough Spire Endo. It's kind of expensive at $80, but I'm a very satisfied customer and after years of abuse, it still looks like new.
Keep an Eagle Eye On Your Laptop
Don't let your laptop out of your sight. This is especially true at airports when you're going through the security check. Now that laptops are required to be taken out of bags, it's even easier for someone to swap laptops with you and boogie down the airport walkway before you realize what's going on. My rule of thumb is to always put everything else in front of your laptop on the conveyor belt, and keep an eye on it while you're going through the scanners. But even when you're waiting for a plane, at a cafe, or similar. It's not hard to close it, bring it with you to the bathroom or counter, then open it back up when you're ready to work again.
An addendum to this is that you also shouldn't leave your laptop on your desk at work if you're leaving for lunch or a meeting, you definitely shouldn't leave it visible in your car when you park, and even in a hotel room, put it in the bag and tuck it under your clothes in a drawer if you must leave it at all.
Lock It Down If It's Sitting On Your Desk
Consider using a lockdown, security tie or sonic alarm with your laptop so that if someone moves it, they either encounter a physical cable that can't be easily cut or trigger a loud alarm that scares them and hopefully causes them to run away without smashing your laptop out of frustration. As with many other security products, visible and overt is always better than subtle and hidden, because it's the "steal, don't steal" decision you want to influence in your favor.
Use The Security In Your Operating System
Make sure you at least have a password for your account so that if your computer is booted up it asks for an account / password pair. That's what the person mailing is talking about, isn't it? I mean, if it's your computer and you use it every day, how could you not remember your own username? Uh huh. Suspicious, eh? You can go further and actually install a BIOS password too, but at that point, your laptop's already stolen so I don't think it's going to do much good other than to protect your data.
Track Your Laptop with Laptop Tracking Software
Finally, there are some very interesting software packages that surreptitiously report to a central server if the laptop appears to be stolen. Again, it's rather too late at that point because it's the theft you want to avoid in the first place, but if you're really security conscious, check out "laptop tracking" as a software category, including CompuTrace and LaptopLocate for Windows, and PC Phonehome and Mac Phonehome, LapCop and StealthSignal for Macintosh laptops.
This is one case where "it's a jungle out there" seems applicable. Good luck, and be safe!
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Reader Comments To Date: 24
Dave! I'm having the same trouble! A family member (in-law) is asking me to look at this laptop he "found". I don't buy it.. he's kind of a shady guy. He claims that he found it in the trash... then said it was on the curb because someone was being evicted. It's a few years old, a decent toshiba notebook. I know I can reformat, but I don't really want to put my hands on it. I'm probably just going to tell him it's too old and I don't know how. He's not too tech savvy so he should buy it. What do you think?
Matthew, I'd run away from that one. Just stonewall with "I can't do it, but CompUSA can install a new oS from scratch pretty cheap" and let them tell him the bad news. Good luck.
Another tip is in the password reminder for OSX. When you get it wrong, I think 3 times, the reminder pops up. If your password's locked in your head, and you genuinely have no fear of forgetting it, you can make the reminder say: 'This laptop is stolen, real owner at this email address/mobile number' for the cops, on the off-chance that they find it.
I agree with you about helping people get access to any computer system that they can't prove they own. I've had a few times that people have called me in to work on computers that I've refused to help them get access because it seemed questionable as to their ownership. I also always write down any serial number/model number on any system I work on.
I also wonder why you didn't suggest that people check their laptop at the front desk if they are staying at a hotel or motel. Trying to hide a laptop in your hotel room is most likely wasted effort if a crook or motel employee is given a chance to look for it and wants to steal it. Anyway I've had very good luck just checking my laptop when I've had to leave it. Just be sure that the desk knows to only give it to you personally and that it's a computer so they don't just toss it under the counter.
On passwords: an OS password and even BIOS password isn't going to do anything to protect your data if someone wants it for any reason. It's trivial to pull the drive out and put it into another machine. At that point, unless you encrypt your hard drive, all your data is easily accessible. Windows XP, OS X, BSD, and Linux all provide ways to encrypt your hard drive, search Google and you'll find the answers.
On BIOS passwords: I don't know about Apple, but every PC laptop manufacturer I know of requires a call to the manufacturer to unlock the BIOS password, for security reasons. Unlike desktop machines, where you can just reset a jumper on the motherboard and reset the password, you have to get a master BIOS password specific to that serial number from the manufacturer.
I would strongly recommend setting a BIOS password on your laptop, and keep your serial number on record in a different place from your laptop. If it is stolen, call the manufacturer and report that serial number as stolen. If someone calls tech support on that serial number for any reason, they will see it's been flagged as stolen, and will make up a reason that they need an address. They can then coordinate with you, to coordinate with your local police, to get the machine recovered. I almost exclusively deal with Dell hardware and I know they do this, but I've heard from others that every major manufacturer will also do this.
Of the roughly half dozen laptops I've administered over my career that have been stolen, none have ever been recovered this way. But, it certainly doesn't hurt! Criminals are dumb, you never know.
Hi, Dave. From on dave to another:
I recently found, yes, found, a Cellphone lying in street, a Motorola RAZR V3/V3c. Now, I'm sure that person that lost it would like to have it returned, but the battery was dead and the SIM card containing the Subscriber info was missing.
I bought a charger and charged it up, turned it on, and it asks for a SIM card. So, without this information, what other means could I use to identify the original owner? There is supposed to be an ESN (Electronic Serial Number) that identifies the owner (I assume) but since I can't access anything other than the welcome screen and dial 911, I can't get to it.
There are a couple of bar codes and a bunch of numbers in the back of the handset, behind the battery. Is one of them the ESN, or anything that can identify the puchaser? These are the numbers:
First Bar Code:
S51NA66WNP MADE IN SINGAPORE
Second Bar Code:
Failing all of the above measures to find the rightful owner, I just may as well keep the phone for my own use. Your opinion on this?
Thanks for any help you can offer.
i don't see the problem with helping people who have stolen property... If you ask me it is the fault of the origional that there computer was stolen... also bios passwords and startup passwords are easy to bipass if you know what your doing and it can be done without pulling the hd...
Drawn here be a Google search. Could the Dave Seiver on this discussion board be the son of George and Edith Seiver? If so, I am a long-lost relative!
Daniel A. Seiver
I just want to thank you for not helping people out who steal laptops......this coming from someone who just bought a brand new Dell laptop and it was stolen at Newark airport. I don't have the money to buy another one now so I have nothing because people don't have the heart to just turn it back in.
HI DAVE, WHAT RECOVERY CD SHOULD I USE FOR A APPLE MAC NOTEBOOK LAPTOP? 2007
You can also use monitoring software to track a stolen laptop. If you are concerned about your child or employees proper use of a laptop install eBlaster software. It will not only record everything that they do and send the recordings to you; but if the laptop is stolen you can use eBlaster to track it.
It is actually designed as activity monitoring software and the ability to recover a stolen computer is a bonus. Just Google eBlaster and check it out.
I agree to not helping people who steal others property. I had my Compaq Armada 1750 stolen in December 2007, I know it is a lost cause but I am still trying to find it. Got it for a present and can't remember the serial code....yay. Sucks, then it was apparently sold to a truck driver who, (when in Chicago, IL) decided to call and try to extort money out of me for it. By the way, his name is Thomas Hank
Plese help me with my crashed BIOS. I downloaded a free softwarte, when asked to restart, an " erasing BIOS" suddenly pop up. Aghast, I was left with a locked-jaw, Now, my ASUS laptop doest work. My son tried to reformat it but nothing happened. Please Help. Muchas Gracias!
hi, can someone tell me how I can scan my pc for spy programs like eblaster. I do have a good antivirus program but I've been told that programs like eblaster hide themselves well and aren't seen even by a good antivirus. What steps should i take in checking if there's one there. Giving my list a quick rundown i dont see anything there but doesn't mean its not there, right?
I found a computer in the trash so idon't know his password would u pease tell me that.
My hp laptop with a built in webcam that I purchased on my pc Richards charge card has been missing since December 3rd 2008. I have been tirelessly trying To find it. I have my receipt, serial number, and the $1010.00 bill that I am paying for. I recently found an Address, and name, and an e-mail address where my equipment may be located. My basic question is how do I trace my laptop at this address with all the information that I have acquired. Please e-mail me anytime.
MY laptop JUST got stolen from my basement sine my basement is a walkout basement to my backyard. It happened on Sunday, i have my serial number and my receipt. Do you know what i can possibly do to get my laptop back because it is NEW! I only had it for a month and a half, and I am Dying because my laptop was like everything to me!
Did you file a police report? You might also go into an Apple store with the police report and see if they can register your serial number as stolen? Otherwise, sorry to say, you're probably out of luck.
A lady pretending to be an imbecile has just stolen my laptop. The only security feature I had on it was the password when it starts up. Do you think she can make something out of the laptop? The Only thing I've got is the Windows (Vista) CD for installation and my charger.
I have a laptop that my boss gave me and he never set terms on it's use or for it to be returned. it's been in my soul possession for over a year and he's asked nothing about it, but he has it's receipt. i use this laptop for everything, and i'm a full time student so this computer is my grades that pave my way to my future. I've bought $300 dollars for software and have soully maintained it's health. can he legally take this computer away from me with just a receipt?
Hey Leigh, by law the laptops owner is the person who can prove receipt. after a recent court case my ex took everything of mine as she could provide receipts that i never had. Whoever has your receipt is the "Legal owner" of the product apparently. I dont know if there is anyway u can get the receipt back from your boss?
Please help me! Someone broke into my house and stole my HP laptop. I registered the computer to me with HP online, but did not write down the serial number and model number. The police have tried to contact HP with the case number to get the serial and model number, but HP say they won't help. Is there a main telephone number at HP to get HELP?
My laptop has been stolen. Do you know who stole my laptop. . . please . . . the person who did it please give to me back. . . I need to update my facebook. . .
I do have a lot to say, and questions of my own for that matter, but first I'd like to say thank you, Dave, for all your helpful information by
buying you a cup of coffee!||
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