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Community Newsletter: Q&A forum: My laptop was stolen, what concerns should I have?

by: Lee Koo (ADMIN) August 3, 2007 11:12 AM PDT

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My laptop was stolen, what concerns should I have?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) ModeratorCNET staff - 8/3/07 11:12 AM


My wife and I had two laptops stolen from our room in an upscale hotel in Norfolk, Virginia last Saturday night. My question is somewhat open-ended. Is a concern justified for identity theft from the info available on the machine? Having owned the laptops for 1 to 2 years and using them as the primary home/travel computer, it is safe to say that everything was on the hard drive. Not only the 20GB of pictures, nor the finance stuff, or the research database, or all the cookies, etc.; even the money for the cost of the computers is poof--gone. What is the concern that the community would have for such a loss: identity theft, system hijacking, sleepless nights, having to buy new ones, and so on. In the future, in case of another loss, what are some solid security measures I can use to prevent someone from obtaining what I have on my laptops?

Also, is the hotel responsible for replacement? We knowingly closed the door behind us when we went out, only to come back to a door ajar with the laptops/bags gone. We do want the hotel to review the letter that we will be sending to the local newspaper and all the travel magazines, in the event that they deny payment. Any suggestions?

--Submitted by: Dave of Onancock, Virginia

Answer voted most helpful by our members.

Reporting & Damage Control, Recovery, Preventative Measures

Hey Dave, You should be concerned. If I were you, here's what I'd do in three stages. The first two stages should be happening now and pretty close to simultaneously until complete. Part I is Reporting and Damage Control, Part II is Recovery, and Part III is Future Preventative Measures to avoid a similar situation.

Part I: Reporting and Damage Control

1) Obtain a copy of the police report associated with the theft.

2) Contact the major credit bureaus. For you AND your wife, have them place a fraud alert on your credit reports for your SSAN and hers (initial fraud alert is good for 90 days and extendable up to 7 years), tell them you want a copy of your credit report (and ask them to ensure only the last four digits of your SSAN are shown on these reports), and get and additional information or advice they can give you: Equifax 1-800-525-6285; Trans Union 1-800-680-7289 or Experian 1-888-397-3742.

3) Contact you credit card companies and tell them what happened; they should refer you to their anti-fraud department or some department with a similar name. They should offer to transfer your balance to a new card number and send you new cards. If fraudulent purchases have already been made, ask them how you go about disputing the fraudulent charges.

4) If new, fraudulent accounts have been opened, report it to the local police where the account was opened and to the FTC (see step 9 below). Obtain an ID Theft Report from the local police and/or the FTC. While waiting for the latter report, contact the company with whom the account was opened. Tell them it is a fraudulent account and a case of ID Theft and a formal report will be forthcoming, and ask the company to explain to you how to go about disputing any charges.

5) Contact your bank and other financial/investment institutions. They should offer to change your accounts, also.

6) Do the same for any and all accounts you have that could be compromised: eBay, PayPal, BidPay, whatever.

7) Do the same for mortgages or car loans or personal loans you have.

8) Contact the police where you live and let them know what has happened, especially if you feel your safety is in question (most likely it is not, but still do it).

9) Report what happened to the FTC's ID Theft Hotline-1-877-438-4338 and ask them for any help they can provide

10) Notify the Social Security Adminsitration, 1-800-772-1213. Let them know what happened. Get it on the record. In some instances, if fradulent use of you number occurs, you can get a new number.

11) Now either take the money you have out of savings or borrow money in order to pay off all outstanding credit that you can; then close the accounts. Close the accounts means when you pay the balance off, tell the creditor you want the account closed.

Part II: Recovery

12) Report the theft to your household goods/homeowner insurance carrier. Many policies cover personal items stolen while traveling and some even offer coverage so you can have your locks changed at home, the cost of new drivers license if that number is compromised and must be changed, and more.

13) If your insurance company says you're not covered, or if you do not have coverage, get a lawyer to look at your policy and to explain the laws in Virginia regarding hotel liability in a situation such as this.

14) Open new accounts as required, since you closed all the old ones. Whenever possible, open the accounts such as MasterCard, Visa, whatever, with entirely new companies; that is, different companies from your previous accounts.

Part III: Future Preventative Measures

15) Subscribe to a credit monitoring service that monitors your credit and immediately reports significant changes in same; i.e., large purchases, unauthorized purchases, etc.

16) Do not store any personal information on your travel computer's hard drive. If you need personal information when you travel, keep it on a flash drive. After you use your computer on-line when traveling, run a sweeper and washer to clean all traces of your surfing off the laptop.

17) Back up your laptop's hard drive at home on an external hard drive so you don't loose what's on your hard drive should this ever happen again.

Finally, vote for politicians who support the death penalty for ID Theft -- just kidding ;>)

--Submitted by: Eradikator

If you have any additional advice or recommendations for Dave, let's hear them! Click on the "Reply" link to post. Please be detailed as possible in your answer. Thanks!

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