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Quickview: Track Down Your Stolen Laptop

Laptop and mobile device recovery programs increase the odds you will find the perpetrator who stole your gear.

Bill Winterberg, 01/09/2014

The processing power and speed of laptop computers have quickly closed the gap with their desktop counterparts, allowing many advisors to abandon desktop computers altogether in favor of a portable workstation.

But the added portability of laptops leads to one of their biggest risks: laptops are a target for theft.

Here are two services worth exploring to increase the chances of recovering a lost or stolen laptop and also prevent your data from falling into the wrong hands.

Prey is a freemium service for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and Linux devices. When installed, Prey leaves little evidence that it is present on the system.

Users report their lost or stolen device as missing by logging in to their Prey account online. Prey attempts to gather location data using WiFi signals, takes pictures using the device's camera, and captures screenshots when the device is in use. All together, this data can be particularly useful to law enforcement, which may require more than just location data to confront a suspected thief.

A similar service is Absolute LoJack from Absolute Software Corporation. Like Prey, LoJack is installed on a device and coupled with an online account to activate device tracking.

What makes LoJack different is the device-recovery assistance offered through its Investigations and Recovery Team of "former military servicemen, government intelligence personnel, and law enforcement officers," according to the company's website. Subscriptions begin at $29.99 per year for iOS and Android mobile devices and $39.99 per year for Windows and Mac laptops.

Note that most device location programs like Prey and LoJack won't work if a thief can't successfully log in to your laptop and connect to WiFi. Therefore, many services recommend that you enable a password-free guest account for your laptop that has no permissions to view your files but can access WiFi connections.

Bill Winterberg, CFP, is a technology and operations consultant to independent financial advisors. His comments on technology have been featured in a variety of financial industry publications. You can view more information about Bill and see his schedule of upcoming speaking engagements at his Web site, FPPad.com. The author is a freelance contributor to MorningstarAdvisor.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.

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