August 15, 2023

10 Steps to Protect Your Laptop and Data from Theft

According to recent statistics, a third of Americans have been the victim of identity theft; that’s 15 million people (about twice the population of New Jersey) every year. With credit card fraud being the most common kind of identity theft, the resulting monetary losses equal roughly $50 billion. While many data breaches occur without ever touching the victim’s personal devices, one in ten laptop theft victims experience identity theft.

Recovering a stolen laptop is rare; only about 3% are returned to the owner. So, we’ve gathered a few tips to help you prevent theft and prepare for the worst-case scenario.

How to protect your sensitive data if your laptop is lost or stolen

While a thief may target your laptop for its resale value, many also know there is additional profit to be made by accessing your private accounts. So much of our personal and work tasks are conducted online. While technology provides convenient account connection and autofill options, these features can increase exposure to identity theft and financial fraud should your devices fall into the wrong hands.

Protect your property and private data with these steps.

What to Do BEFORE Your Laptop is Stolen or Lost

1. Keep your laptop secure and out of sight

Theft is often a crime of opportunity. Removing the temptation to steal by keeping your valuables from public view when you aren’t using them is one of the best ways to deter being targeted. Never leave your laptop unattended in a public place. Even in a locked vehicle, be sure to hide it to prevent a “smash and grab,” and turn it off. This will prevent thieves from using Bluetooth technology to detect your device and determine where it is located in your car.

For added security, you can purchase a laptop lock for your computer’s Universal Security Slot (USS). These cables function like a bike lock, allowing you to attach your device to a stationary object.

Finally, avoid advertising you have a laptop by using an inconspicuous bag or backpack.

2. Record the serial number and enable Find My Device features

Recording the serial number, make, and model of the laptop will help should you need to file a police report for a stolen laptop.

With Find My Device enabled, you can locate, lock, and wipe a device should it be lost or stolen. This feature must be activated when setting up your computer or at another time before the laptop is stolen to use it. If the thief connects to the internet, you can log into the tracking service from another device and pinpoint the location based on its IP address.

3. Use a power-on password or enable touch ID

Purchasing a new laptop is exciting and the desire to start using it right away to stream videos, play games, or surf the internet can be overwhelming. However, don’t skip important steps of the setup, like enabling a required password or touch ID after turning on the computer.

Since recovery is a long shot, this will serve as the first safeguard against a data breach. Avoid using the same password you use for other accounts and choose a phrase with a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters.

4. Find and encrypt sensitive documents

Even if your laptop isn’t used for work, you might be surprised by how many documents you have stored with sensitive information like your social security number, birth date, bank account numbers, driver’s license, and medical information.

Device protection software, like IDSeal Pro-Tec, comes with Sensitive Document Detection that can be used to locate any file with private personal information. After scanning your computer for these files, you can either delete what you don’t need to keep or safely store them using the IDSeal Pro-Tec Encrypted Documents Vault feature.

5. Be prepared to wipe your computer remotely as a last resort

Another option to ensure your data isn’t accessed is to remotely wipe the device’s solid-state drive (SSD) or hard drive. Both Apple and Microsoft devices include this capability, but you must set up the Find My Device feature before the laptop is lost or stolen. When the laptop is powered on and connected to the internet, this allows you to erase all files from the device.

Before pushing the button, beware that this option is nuclear. All your applications, documents, pictures, videos, and user accounts and their data will disappear. So, regularly back up what you want to keep on either a separate hard drive or use cloud storage.

Pairing data encryption with remote wiping is a solid strategy to protect sensitive information and prevent identity theft and credit fraud.

Stay one step ahead of cybercriminals. Download IDSeal Pro-Tec, a 16-feature device protection app, when you purchase any identity theft protection plan with IDSeal. Learn more.

What to Do AFTER Your Laptop is Stolen or Lost

1. Track your laptop

Check to see if the thief is attempting to use your computer by turning on the Find My Device feature you set up earlier.

If you own a Windows device, like a Surface, Surface Pen, or laptop, you can visit and sign into your account. Go to the “Find My Device” tab and select the stolen device. Click “Find” to locate it on a map.  When you find the computer, you can lock it remotely and reset your Windows password.

Similarly, if you have an Apple laptop, you can use the “Find My” app. Open the app on another device, and you’ll see a device list with all your registered gadgets like air Pods, iPhones, iPads, and Macs, and the location of each device. You can also click “Play Sound” to emit a sound from the device that gradually increases in volume for two minutes or start the next time it connects to a network. This is a great to confirm the device is not misplaced. After that, activate “Lost Mode” to display a custom message with your phone number on the lock screen and keep your information safe.

Remember, you must add your laptop to the Find My Device list before it’s lost or stolen.

If you forget to do this, you may be able to use Gmail, Dropbox, or other cloud service providers to locate a device logged-in to your account if it’s online.

2. File a police report

After confirming your laptop has been stolen, call the authorities and file a report with your local police as soon as possible. Give the information regarding the make, model, and serial number. Let them know if you are able to see the location of the device on a tracking app.

Even if there is little chance of recovering the device, the report will come in handy if you have renters or homeowners’ insurance. Many policies cover stolen or damaged laptops as part of “personal property coverage.”

3. Turn off autofill and clear your browsing history

Most browsers like Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge, allow users to enable autofill to auto-sign into accounts on trusted devices.  It’s convenient for you, but also for the thief if your power-on password is cracked. All your accounts from email to banking to social media are wide open, like leaving a safe door unlocked after closing a bank for the night.

To switch off autofill and lock the safe, go to your preferred browsers settings, and find the option to turn off automatic sign-ins. Here, you should also be able to clear browsing data with saved information used to fill out forms and account logins if the device is synced with your account.

Important: Don’t forget to remove saved credit card information from your browser. Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Microsoft Edge all have slightly different instructions on how to do that.

4. Change your passwords and update your accounts

Resetting your account passwords renders autofill useless, so make a list of all your online accounts and update each with a strong and unique password as soon as possible. If you haven’t already set up multi-factor authentication on all the accounts that offer it, do that next.

Lastly, remove the laptop from your accounts’ trusted device lists and turn off any cloud sharing or auto-syncing with other devices you own.

5. Freeze your credit and replace your credit card

Because laptops and other personal devices hold a treasure trove of personal and financial information, it’s a lot like losing your wallet or social security card. Even if you follow every step here, you’ll still want to freeze your credit and replace your cards.

Keep an eye on your financial accounts and consider pulling a credit history report to ensure no fraudulent accounts are opened in your name.

These redundancies may seem paranoid, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Get Complete Identity Theft Protection with IDSeal

The threat of identity theft can feel abstract until something tangible like your laptop or wallet is stolen. Fortunately, you have options to protect your personal data and reduce the potential damage of cybercrime.

At IDSeal, we offer several identity protection plans to fit your needs and budget. Each plan comes with up to $1 million in identity theft insurance, 24/7 Recovery Specialists, credit and financial monitoring, sex offender geo monitoring, and a 16-feature device protection app.

Find the plan that’s right for you.

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Remember, 1-in-4 Americans are the victim of identity theft. It's not a matter

of if you'll become a victim, it's when...

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