What to do when your laptop is stolen (and how to prepare for it)
PCWorld|August 2021
If your laptop is stolen, you’ll need to act fast to keep your personal data secure— and actions you take before the hijacking can be crucial.
MARSHALL GUNNELL

Having your laptop stolen isn’t just stressful because you need to replace a pricey piece of hardware—it also poses a threat to your digital security. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect yourself both before and after your laptop goes missing. Read on to learn about how to prepare yourself against the possibility of notebook theft, how to report the theft tif your laptop is stolen, and how to protect your data after it’s in the hands of thieves.

HOW TO PREPARE FOR POSSIBLE LAPTOP THEFT

Obviously, nobody expects their laptop to get stolen, but it can happen to anyone. It’s important to take steps to protect yourself while your computer (and your sensitive data) is still in your possession, as it makes recovering from a notebook theft much easier. In particular, you should make sure to:

Encrypt your data

You can encrypt your hard drive so that no one can access your sensitive information (like saved passwords and your credit card info) even if they have physical access to your laptop.

If your computer is running Windows, take a few minutes to set up BitLocker (go. pcworld.com/btlr), which can encrypt your drive. You’ll need to pick a password to access your data, so make sure to follow all the usual password best practices (go. pcworld.com/pswp). (Above all, don’t write it on a sticky note and put it on your laptop.)

If you’re open to using third party software, you can also download Absolute Home & Office (go.pcworld.com/hmof; formerly LoJack for Laptops). In addition to encrypting your drive, it also makes it easier to take some of the other measures described in this article, such as tracing your laptop’s location and remotely deleting your data.

Keep a current backup

You should regularly back up your data so that if someone steals your laptop, your files aren’t lost forever. You should be doing this even if you’re not concerned about laptop theft, since data can be lost or damaged in dozens of different ways.

To learn how to back up your data more efficiently, see our guides on the best backup software for Windows (go.pcworld.com/ bbkp) and the best online backup services (go.pcworld.com/bons).

Enable your laptop’s tracking feature

Lastly, you should enable your laptop’s tracking feature. If it’s stolen, you can use this to locate and lock it. In Windows 10, this feature is called Find My Device (go.pcworld.com/fmdv); in macOS, it’s called Find My (go.pcworld.com/fmac).

To use the Find My Device feature in Windows, your laptop needs to be logged into a Microsoft Account and location services need to be enabled.

To enable this feature—which, to be clear, you have to do before your laptop is stolen—click the Start Menu in the bottom-left corner of your desktop and then click Settings (1).

In the Settings screen, click the button that says Update & Security (2).

Next, click “Find my device” in the sidebar. Click the button on the next screen that says Change, and finally, toggle the slider to the On position under “Save my device’s location periodically” (3).

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