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Best Way To Get Back a Stolen Computer? 482

davidphogan74 writes "I have some stolen computers checking in with a server we have (software pre-loaded), and I have full access to the systems. What's the best way to deal with this situation? The local police (to the theft) have been contacted several times and seem to be clueless. I personally have no financial interest in these computers, I just don't like atom-thieves. What's the best way to handle knowing the IPs, email addresses, MySpace sites, the Google login, etc. when working with law enforcement? The officer I spoke with (who genuinely seemed to care) didn't know an IP address from a mailing address, so I called others. Nobody cared. Anyone have any ideas?"
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Best Way To Get Back a Stolen Computer?

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  • by FlyingSquidStudios ( 1031284 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:28AM (#24058491) Homepage
    You need Snake Plissken.
  • by Timo_UK ( 762705 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:29AM (#24058501) Homepage
    to Goatse?
  • First idea (Score:3, Funny)

    by mrroot ( 543673 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:29AM (#24058507)
    First, I would check the airport [].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:30AM (#24058509)

    The ISP can tell you who is at an IP address, and from that, you can find your computers.

    • by spyrochaete ( 707033 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:33AM (#24058543) Homepage Journal
      That's a sound idea. It might be a good bit of preventive maintenance to use a dynamic DNS client like No-IP to map the computer's current IP, whatever it may be, to a unique domain name. If your PC goes missing just ping the domain and if it's plugged in you're that much closer to finding it.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:35AM (#24058565)

      confidential data such as that can only be obtained with a court order ... unless you're sneaky and can somehow convince tech support or a CSR to give you the information.

    • by ClarisseMcClellan ( 1286192 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:40AM (#24058647)

      If the police will not help you then set it to up/download dubious content. They will be round like a shot. You might get nicked visiting a FBI kiddie-porn honey trap during your research for this though...
      Maybe try the RIAA. Claim that it has downloaded an Amy Winehouse track or something like that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by joe 155 ( 937621 )
      I really would second that. But you should ring up and (whilst trying to, as much as possible, avoid being condescending) talk the nice guy at the police through what he will have to do stage by stage to get the people who've robbed you.

      Basically saying "I have this data which can be varified in these ways, which will give you reasonable suspicion that these people are thieves. If you ring up the number and say you are with the police they will give you their physical address, which you can then make a
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:46AM (#24058711)

      If you have monitoring software on the computer, just wait until they do some sort of financial transaction using the company machine.

      Then just use the info to order a few dozen more PC's at their expense, and send them an email saying you won't tell if they won't.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by SirKron ( 112214 )
        If the stole the laptop, they are likely to be using a stolen credit card too. It would be a better idea to have a sheriff follow the UPS guy to the door; most officers would love to bust someone for an online purchase (especially crossing state lines) with stolen credit card.
    • by Zeinfeld ( 263942 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:59AM (#24058841) Homepage
      You should certainly be investigating this as an employer. It is very likely the computers were stolen by employees you would like to stop employing before they steal more from you.

      What you need to do here is to contact a specialist computer crimes department. This will not be a new situation to them and they will recognize the fact that there is a very high probability of an arrest and recovery of the stolen goods.

      The first thing to do would be to find out if the computers were officially reported stolen. If so you need to report the development to the police force where the theft was reported. Otherwise make out a report.

      Once a report is made it counts on their local statistics and the police have to take it seriously - we are talking about several thousand dollars here.

      There may not be a computer crimes dept on your local force but they should certainly have access to those resources. Find out which force is responsible for investigating kiddie porn - those guys would usually pretty much prefer to be doing anything else for a change, after a short while its like shooting fish in a barrel.

      You can certainly help by collecting as much information as possible. For example, log the IP addresses that the machines are using. Then use reverse DNS lookup to find the ISP.

      If you still can't get anywhere, contact me at and I can pass the issue on to folk I know. They may not be able to help you direct but they will know someone who can.

      The reason that so much time and effort is poured into investigating kiddie porn rather than bank fraud is not simply the nature of the crime. Its the fact that they have a defined process that delivers highly predictable results. If we could design a process for delivering collars in phishing fraud we would have no difficulty making it a higher police priority.

      It seems to me that this is an area where we can easily set up a predictable recovery process that delivers collars.

      • by ZeroFactorial ( 1025676 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @11:10AM (#24058927)
        One other idea would be to make a bogus MySpace account with a picture of a hot chick/dude (depending on the thief's gender) that lives somewhere in the same area as the thief.

        Then befriend the thief over a couple weeks and get all the personal info you can (phone #, maybe even address, etc..)

        Then just call the cops with a physical address and tell them the person committed grand theft [] of company property, and that you suspect they have the stolen property at their residence.

        Grand Theft is committed when the money, labor, real or personal property stolen is valued at more than $400.

        • The police are really clueless when it comnes to this as well as cyber crime.

          A few years ago a had a debit card number stolen from a site where I purchased a CD. All of a sudden we started seeing odd charges (for body piercing jewelery). Within 24 hours, I had contacted the places where the purchases were made and had the person's name, home address, and home phone number. I did nothing illegal since he had put my name on the orders as the person paying the bill. I managed to get most of the money refunded to my account in a day but the police did NOTHING.

          The bank still insisted that I fill out a theft report - which the cops did even they didn't quite understand why. I gave them the information when I filled out the report and they were kinda stumped what to actually do about it.

          So this seems to be the norm (not having cops understand what to do with technology).

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by pavon ( 30274 )

            I don't even know that it is an issue of technology. Cops don't seem interested in investigating theft of any sort. They certainly don't try to track down thieves. They are used to filling out theft reports in situations where they know an insurance company want to see it, but otherwise they don't even bother with that.

            I'd be more willing to say that the cost/benefit ratio of investigating that sort of crime was too low, if they didn't waste so much time and money on even smaller crimes.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by tsm_sf ( 545316 )
              Move along, sir.
            • I have to agree,and I can add my own little story. Someone stole some of my sisters checks when she moved,we figured someone managed to get it off the moving van or broke into her house while she was in the hospital. The thieves even allowed the store owners put THEIR drivers license number on the checks in order to cash them,and the cops didn't do squat. I mean hell,how much more info do they need than the thieves drivers license number? But around here we learned a LONG time ago if you don't say the "d" word(drugs) the cops don't care.

              Another true story: I had a neighbor of my sister that was getting beaten pretty bad,she had a restraining order,but when she would call the cops they would take an average of FOUR HOURS to get there. So I told her to tell the cops when she dialed 911 that she believed he had drugs on him. The cops were there in under THREE MINUTES and then proceeded to get VERY nasty with the guy when they tore his truck apart and didn't find any dope. So I guess the moral of the story is unless it is a crime they want to deal with,you can pretty much forget it. Hey,that might work for you! Tell the cops you have remote access to the box and the suspect was talking about drugs! I bet they go out of their way to get him for you! Have fun! And as always this is my 02c,YMMV

              • For starters, I'm absolutely NO fan of our country's zeal to prosecute drug users. Our prisons are bloated with people who are mostly there because they chose illicit narcotics to self-medicate psychiatric illnesses.

                As for beat-cops, their careers progress based on their metrics. Every arrest they make resulting in conviction boosts their stats and they get closer to promotion. Drug crimes are the low-hanging fruit. Possession is difficult evidence to refute in court. And a bunch of states have mandator
                • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by mog007 ( 677810 )

                  While I agree with your stance on drug prohibition, the article you linked to about the man with the seven grams of cocaine got the book thrown at him for skipping bail. The article says he choked his girlfriend until she blacked out instead of being in court. So, I think twenty years isn't *that* much of an overreach.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by RobertM1968 ( 951074 )

      Sadly, that requires a court order - which would require a police department (and DA) who understands the matter well enough to initiate such proceedings. (it is interesting that when "big money" is involved - such as in RIAA proceedings - suddenly everyone involved on the enforcement side becomes far more knowledgable).

      On that note, you may wish to see if your local PD has a dedicated "Internet Crimes Division" - you may just be talking to the wrong people in your local PD. Failing that, try contacting th

    • The ISP can tell you who is at an IP address

      Uhh, no the ISP can not tell OP who is at an IP address and I would hope that you don't really expect that would really happen under any circumstances. An ISP isn't going to turn over personally identifying information with out a judges (or at least a sworn Law Enforcement Officers's) signature.

      To answer the question: You found a guy who cares, you just need to get him to understand the evidence you have and how to follow the trail the point that he's willing to take action. Giving up in talking to him won't solve your problem. Calling him clueless won't either.

  • If they don't matter just give them up perhaps? Or make a loop to toggle the CD tray repeatedly - just to annoy the hell out of em - trigger the internal speaker too. If they don't matter you'd be better off having some fun irritating the thieves than putting in the effort of tracking em down.
    • by flyingfsck ( 986395 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:36AM (#24058587)
      Play them country music 24/7/365 - or maybe that is too cruel, even for a thief...
    • Re:Obvious Solution (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Crudely_Indecent ( 739699 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @11:06AM (#24058889) Journal

      You then run the risk of alerting the thieves that the systems are remotely accessible. This might prompt them to re-format and re-install which loses you the ability of remote access.

      If it was me, I'd be installing keystroke loggers and seeing what kinds of information I can capture. Credit cards, phone numbers, email addresses, etc. can give you the ability to inflict deeper wounds than than the cd tray can cause.

      Now, I'm not suggesting that you commit credit card fraud with captured numbers, but you could submit those credit card numbers to a newsgroup on the net read by people that would be more than happy to commit the fraud for you.

      Heh, steal a computer and destroy your credit rating. All of their friends in the address book get spammed to death, their email accounts are suspended for spam. Capture a phone number, submit it to companies that will try to sell them crap during dinner. You get the idea.

      Why annoy, when you can inflict real and lasting damage.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:31AM (#24058517)

    Become a cop and solve it yourself.

  • Across State lines? (Score:3, Informative)

    by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:32AM (#24058527) Homepage Journal

    Then call the FBI, they do have some experience in this sort of thing.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:40AM (#24058655)

      Or make the computers send a death threat to each member of the congress and executive office (including the candidates) then the FBI moves in, and at the impounded auction you can buy it back for pennies on the dollar.

    • by dhasenan ( 758719 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:49AM (#24058733)

      The FBI won't intervene for less than $5000 worth of stolen goods, generally.

      Work for the NSA and get a computer with top secret (but not especially sensitive) data on it. When that gets stolen, you'll have a black ops team using the thieves' home as a training facility for an evening. That happened to my friend, once. (He had an NSA-style briefcase with builtin microphone, cell phone, radio transmitter, and GPS unit that was stolen. He himself did not steal such an item.)

  • by puusism ( 136657 ) * on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:32AM (#24058529) Homepage

    See what this guy did with his irrigation controller: []

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      So, duct tape your computer to your irrigation controller, and everything will be OK?

  • Go to a lawyer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by neapolitan ( 1100101 ) * on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:33AM (#24058539)

    Speak with a lawyer that has knowledge and interest in this situation. The fact that a successful prosecution may bring a lot of publicity to the guy may be enough to help him work for free, or the company that is losing the computers may post his retainer.

    What is your relation to all of this? As with any civil case, the police are not going to be a driving force to pursue the theft; your company or the people that lost it should be making sure things get done.

    I wouldn't expect police to know anything about IP, MAC addresses, login tracing, etc., but a lawyer would. Then, what a lawyer can do is go to a judge saying, "We have solid evidence that person at IP x.x.x.x which is Verizon ISP registered to address ___ main street., also cross confirming with name at myspace profile _____, is using stolen property."

    A warrant will then be issued, and the police can go to the house and retrieve the laptop, and interview the guy, who will doubtlessly say "I bought it from _____ on the street, I thought it was legit." You will surely get your computer back, and if you find a motherlode of computers, he will surely go to jail.

    • Re:Go to a lawyer (Score:5, Informative)

      by catmistake ( 814204 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:57AM (#24058829) Journal

      As with any civil case, the police are not going to be a driving force to pursue a theft

      FYI Theft is criminal, not civil, how serious depends on the dollar amount. Most thefts under $1000 are misdemeanors, over that is felony theft and these crimes are certainly under the pervue of your local and state police (unless its interstate, in which cases the FBI has jurisdiction).

      • Re:Go to a lawyer (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @11:13AM (#24058961) Homepage

        Mod parent up. What is the point of paying taxes to fund law enforcement if anybody who is the victim of a crime has to mount their own investigation and civil prosecution. Maybe if cops spent less time enforcing laws that 95% of people disagree with (copyright enforcement, speed traps, etc) they'd have time to actually solve crimes that people thing ought to be solved...

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by russotto ( 537200 )

          What is the point of paying taxes to fund law enforcement if anybody who is the victim of a crime has to mount their own investigation and civil prosecution.

          You don't pay taxes to fund law enforcement so they'll investigate people who commit crimes against you. You pay taxes to fund law enforcement so they don't come and take your property away and/or throw you in jail. It's a protection racket, nothing more.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by nomadic ( 141991 )
        FYI Theft is criminal, not civil, how serious depends on the dollar amount. Most thefts under $1000 are misdemeanors, over that is felony theft and these crimes are certainly under the pervue of your local and state police (unless its interstate, in which cases the FBI has jurisdiction).

        Many crimes also constitute individual civil torts. If someone comes onto your land and steals your irrigation system, that's larceny or burglary, but it's also conversion [], and you can be sued for it. If you know who to
        • As far as I know, you can sue anyone for any reason, but lawsuits aren't free. Why anyone would wish to pursue this before or instead of a (free or state funded) criminal prosecution I have no idea.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by nomadic ( 141991 )
            Why anyone would wish to pursue this before or instead of a (free or state funded) criminal prosecution I have no idea.

            Because there are different remedies and a different burden of proof. In a state-funded criminal prosecution their main goal is to convict and punish the perpetrator, and they must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. You might get your property back, after it's languished in the evidence locker for a year or two. If the property was destroyed or lost, however, the state's not
  • Disable volume control, load up a wav that screams "I'm stolen" in a loop, then after a couple of minutes trigger a program that reformats the hard drive and puts a garbled GRUB loader in the boot sector.

    Essentially, brick it after letting the thieves know you know they stole it.

  • First you go get a gun, then you run around shooting complete strangers (don't worry - they'll respawn eventually), and make your way toward any glowing switches you happen to find. For no apparent reason, this will advance you toward your goal of getting your computer back.

    OH! Don't forget to find a good spot to spawn camp to get your frag numbers up! I hear the nursery ward at the hospital tends to be a good camping spot...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:34AM (#24058553)
    Try explaining it to a cop as being like a stolen phone? You have the equivalent of its phone number and need police to ask the phone company to look up the location of the stolen property?
  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:35AM (#24058563)

    My advice is to find out where the gear is physically, then call the sympathetic cop back.

    If you cannot find that out, you cannot expect them to. I would take the IP address and contact the ISP that serves it. If they won't help you, get the cop to do it.

    An obvious question is, do these computers have built in cameras that can be turned on remotely ? That might produce useful info.

    You might also be able to read the thieves' email. If you do that long enough, I bet you will get their names and addresses.

  • by celest ( 100606 ) <> on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:35AM (#24058569) Homepage

    You may want to escalate the matter to a different law enforcement agency, such as the FBI. They should be more responsive to this sort of thing, especially if you describe it as data theft, rather than property theft, as surely your company's computers that were stolen were loaded with company data.

    If you live in a small county with elected/appointed law enforcement agents, perhaps you should raise this issue the next time they're up for re-election. If you live in a larger city, perhaps you should contact your city councilor about the issue and request that your city's police force be modernized for the 21st century.

    You should avoid doing anything yourself, as you can land yourself in legal trouble. If you insist on doing something yourself, get legal advice first to ensure you aren't going to cause more trouble for yourself in the process.

  • Take a picture (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Acapulco ( 1289274 )
    If the computer has a conencted webcam, try to take pictures. There was a /. story about someone who did this with a Mac. I'm just too lazy to search for the link.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Well I'm just too lazy to mod you up then.

      +/-0 lazy git
  • Easy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:36AM (#24058575) Journal

    Tell the police that since they were stolen, people keep sending you notices that you have signed up for child porn websites.... bet they can find the IP then, and subsequently the location and thief.

  • by nanospook ( 521118 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:36AM (#24058577)
    If they hook up a modem, have it call 911 and hang up. Have it do this over and over.. they will get a visit! If you can figure out how, have the computer place the call and play back a synthesized speech explaining that this computer belongs to you and is stolen.
  • by ad0n ( 1171681 )
    if you have access to the new "owner's" social-networking and private information, this may be a perfect opportunity for vigilante justice or, failing that, pure entertainment value. haunt that box .. ( insert scary ghost sounds here )
  • by urbanriot ( 924981 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:36AM (#24058591)
    If you have full access t to the system, start logging EVERYTHING. I'm sure eventually you'll find someone going to a myspace, facebook or checking email.

    Write down the IP address, find the ISP and call them and ask them to log that you called with the date and time, and the IP address. I wouldn't expect you to tell you who it is, but have them log the user at that time so you can reference it later.
  • by PinkyDead ( 862370 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:37AM (#24058593) Journal

    Something similiar to: []

  • Flash the Bios (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Flash the bios with something unusable.......

    If they want stolen stuff, then break it.....

    Good luck fixing that!

  • If you have the IP addresses, you should be able to contact the ISP to determine where they might be. The ISP might even have a contact with the local police who does have a clue, since they have to deal with people stealing equipment too.

    Also, if you have email addresses and similar information, you may be able to use some "social engineering" to get the thieves to give you their address or a land line number you can use to do a reverse lookup.

    It will take some work either way. Unfortunately, there

  • by v1 ( 525388 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:39AM (#24058645) Homepage Journal

    talk to the police chief in the town, talk with the local sheriff. If you can't get satisfaction, talk with the local newspaper. Also try the county judge, they may give you some insight on how to motivate the law on that area.

    Be sure to keep meticulous records on IP addresses, dates, times, etc. Find out what ISP they are using and contact them. They will very likely tell you they cannot give YOU information, but they probably will give this information to the police/sheriff. Make sure that happens before their records are rotated and wiped. It may be necessary for them to fax the ISP a request or get it in writing, again make sure this process moves forward, keep tabs on progress and that it doesn't be come a "we didn't have time to bother".

    There are other creative ideas you could employ. Put a script on the laptop that emails the county judge once an hour saying "hello from stolen laptop located in your district. Just a reminder for you that your law enforcement has yet to recover this identified stolen property after having been notified of its location." Be sure it CCs the local sheriff/police chief. If you know the mayor or governor's email address, that makes a good CC also.

    If they ask you to stop the emails, refuse. Sorry that laptop's been stolen. Maybe you should go get it for me and I'll turn off the script?

  • by chalkyj ( 927554 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:40AM (#24058653)
    Record their credit card details then charge them for the computer they "bought". :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by grolaw ( 670747 )

      Wire fraud. Swift. Enjoy the jail time. Banks do have the power (and, the requisite number of losses) to have a $2k theft with wire fraud/identity theft prosecuted.

  • by djc6 ( 86604 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:41AM (#24058661)

    My brother's desktop computer was stolen in NYC. He started showing up on Instant Messenger, and some young kids were using the computer and accepted a video chat request! From there I had their IP address. The detective handling the case had no idea what I was talking about, but it turns out NYC (and maybe your municipality) has a computer crimes squad. My brother contacted them directly with the IP address I retrieved, and they were able to recover the computer pretty quickly! So try and find if there is a department that handles electronic fraud, computer crimes, that sort of thing.

  • Well, if you've got full control, you have a lot of options. How vindictive are you? Once you've exhausted all avenues or enquiry, you could connect in, set up a massive raging ravenous bittorrent seed of lots of rubbish pop music and wait for the RIAA to nail the guy for you.

  • by Archon-X ( 264195 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:44AM (#24058705)

    Call the cops back, tell them not to worry about following up the theft, as you just went around and shot the thief.

    See how fast they scuttle ;)

  • Obvious (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ctrl-Z ( 28806 ) <tim@ t i m c o l e m a> on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:50AM (#24058755) Homepage Journal
    If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... The A-Team.
  • by distantbody ( 852269 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:51AM (#24058761) Journal
    In fact, recently a crooked Australian cop by the name of Mark Standen working as "NSW Crime Commission investigator" was spied on by way of hacking his computer and recording the webcam output. What was ironic was that the guys job as said investigator meant that he was that he knew (almost) every surveillances tactic in the book! It was a case of a (police anti-corruption) watcher being watched by an inner circle of the same watchers...
  • by UncHellMatt ( 790153 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:51AM (#24058763)
    And we handle this regularly. The department local to where the thefts occurred should have been notified in the first place and a police report filed. If you've done that, there will be an officer associated with that report. Get in touch with him/her directly with the information you have. If you can't, find out who the detectives are for that PD and get in touch with them. If you can gather any and all information you've got regarding IP addresses, etc., put it all together before getting in touch.

    Unfortunately, if they're not remotely tech savvy and/or simply afraid of technology, it may take some prodding. Most state police agencies have teams specifically tasked with this sort of thing, so it may be that you have to contact your state's police for help.

    When you bring any documentation, also make sure you have estimated costs of all the hardware. That will sometimes help get people's attention, being able to say it's X number of dollars. Not saying it's right, but much of the time you run into departments who won't pay much attention to "petty" thefts, but will take notice of $2000 or more. There have been a number of /. stories regarding people in your situation tracking down stolen computers. You might try searching for those or Google articles and blogs about the steps folks have taken when facing lackluster police response.
    • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @11:13AM (#24058953) Homepage Journal

      All the hardware and all the software. Not just the hardware. If they stole a $700 copy of Photoshop (retail), for example, that can push the dollar figure way up.

      I would also add that your best bet is to contact the upstream ISP for the IP number and inform them of the situation. Let them know that you need to work with police on it and need to know what city it is in so that you can get a local PD to follow up. They won't give you the address without a warrant or court order, but they should be willing to give you the city. Once you know what city it is in, you can then contact their PD and follow up with their computer crimes division, assuming they have one. If they don't, ask who their most computer-savvy officer is. They're bound to have at least one or two people who help maintain their website on the side as a minimum. Try to work with that officer (or if it's a non-officer staffer, try to work with an officer through them since having somebody who understands tech who the officers already know will put you in a better position as far as getting them to trust you).

      Do a traceroute to the IP number (or if it's behind a wormhole route, do a traceroute from their IP to or something) and see if you see any useful domain names in the trace. If so, it doesn't matter who owns the netblock. Go to whoever owns the domain. If, for example, you can track it to a university campus, you're in even better shape, of course, as they are more likely to work with you without the need to get a warrant if you can show that the computer is stolen and that you are in control over a computer on their network. They are also likely to be technically competent as would an ISP, but unlike an ISP, they have user agreements that almost certainly allow them to investigate their users. Then, ask them to help you work with the campus cops to get your laptop back.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 04, 2008 @10:58AM (#24058831)
    I'll tell you what worked for me when my laptop was stolen in grad school with my thesis on it and my laptop "phoned home" with screen shots of the desktop and the ip addresses it was connecting from.

    Setup a fake myspace page with pictures of a cute girl. Friend the dumbass thief, flirt awhile, and then get them to come out on a "date". When you finally meet up with them, bring a few of your own friends with any weapon you deem necessary. Once you meet them and they figure out what is going on, tell them how you found them and let them know if you don't get your property back you will do damage with whatever weapon you chose to bring.

    In my case the guy who stole my laptop passed out when he was confronted (very pathetic) and we had to wait for him to wake up. When he woke back up he was still so confused and frightened by how we tracked him down that he gave me twice what the laptop was worth just so we wouldn't call the cops on him because it would ruin his chances at becoming a doctor (apparently he was a med student).

    Some people don't like vigilante justice but from what I've seen in the past from my own experience and the experience of my friends and acquaintances, the cops aren't very good at recovering stolen property and I'm not rolling in enough money to be robbed and just shrug it off.

    Posted anonymous for the obvious reasons.
  • Call the DA... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Panaflex ( 13191 ) <> on Friday July 04, 2008 @11:02AM (#24058871)

    Call your district attorney's office. They love this kind of stuff, honestly - and they'll be happy to track down thieves with the assistance of law enforcement.

    If the computers have been taken across state lines - you may be able to contact the FBI as well.

    If they can get on the front page with a table full of stolen gear - they'll be really happy.

  • forget police (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tom ( 822 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @11:03AM (#24058881) Homepage Journal

    Unless you are extremely lucky (which you aren't, since you tried), you will not get police who cares or knows - one of either, but both is highly unlikely. Not to put them down - most officers with the know-how simply have more important things to deal with than some theft.

    If your machines are brand-machines, and registered to your name or company, my suggestion would be to remotely disable them to the point where they need to be brought in for repairs, clue in the manufacturer, and they just might return them to the owner they have on record, i.e. you.

    And even if not, you probably made sure the thieves can't use them any longer, which according to your words you'd also judge as a victory.

    Make sure it's something a non-geek can't solve, like with a re-install. Setting a BIOS or EFI password and then pointing the boot device to a non-existant one could work great.

  • Use the Press. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by arthurpaliden ( 939626 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @11:32AM (#24059149)
    Just get in touch with your local news reporter that covers City Hall and give them the story of public servants not doing their job. Just make sure to give them all the information, in fact you may want to write the story for them to make if ultra easy for them to use.
  • turn on the mic? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Locklin ( 1074657 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @11:38AM (#24059213) Homepage

    How about turning on the Mic or web cam and start taking recordings and sending them back to your computer, or better yet, email them directly to the police.

  • Have some fun (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sjames ( 1099 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @11:40AM (#24059233) Homepage Journal

    Check this with an actual lawyer first (I'm not one). Since you (by being an employee of the rightful owner) presumably have a right to install anything you want on the machines, install keyloggers and other spyware.

    If a webcam is available on the laptop, by all means take some snapshots!

    Read the new user's em,ail to find hints as to who and where they are. If they admit to further crimes in email or ICQ, turn the information over to the police. Even if they have been resold, a person who buys a hot laptop might well receive other stolen goods as well. Email would help you (and polike/courts) to decide how knowingly they bought stolen goods.

    Do not do anything that could tip them off that you are there or they might get someone to do a reload and you lose them.

    If the police still show no ability to deal with it, copy all personal info on the machines and pop a note yup on the desktop stating that you have it and will publish it (including a nice email to everyone in their address book) if you don't get your machines back. (REALLY check with a lawyer here!!!). Note that the last one would be bad news even if the person is the thief and everyone they know is a thief or a fence. Who wants hot merchandise from someone who's being watched over the net?

    THEN, mess with them. Crank up the volume and play audio files that say things like "POLICE, FREEZE!!" at 3AM.

  • by multipartmixed ( 163409 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @12:24PM (#24059617) Homepage

    On the off chance that it does, and the even off-er chance that it's plugged in... have it call your telephone and read the Caller ID back.

    How about a microphone? Turn it on and spy on them.

    How about a camera? Ditto.

    Wifi card? Sniff the area and see if you can't figure out who his neighbours are. Hotels, Starbucks, etc.

    Or, put a squid box on the 'net and send all his HTTP through it. Then trolls through his HTTP traffic and try and figure who he is.

  • by Ritchie70 ( 860516 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @12:59PM (#24059937) Journal

    Go back to the police officer who wanted to help you. You can teach someone who cares.

    You cannot make someone care.

    Explain to him that it's kind of like LoJack - but you need some court orders to get the physical location information broken loose.

    Walk him through the information you have, and what business entities can turn that information into physical-space addresses.

    If you have IP addresses, MySpace and Google logins, you probably have enough information to identify the people in current possession of the laptop.

    He can work with the DA to get appropriate court orders to turn logins into names and addresses without fully understanding any of it.

  • easy... (Score:5, Funny)

    by painehope ( 580569 ) on Friday July 04, 2008 @01:38PM (#24060241)
    Trace them via the physical layer, and then contact me. 3K USD for the laptop, or 90K for the laptop and their head in a cooler.
  • by DamnStupidElf ( 649844 ) <> on Friday July 04, 2008 @02:33PM (#24060685)

    Watch the laptops until they reveal enough information about themselves to drop them a friendly call (make sure to state their name and address) to inform them that they have stolen property, and that if they'd like to avoid being arrested they should perform a blind drop of all the stolen equipment at a location you're familiar with. Maybe just have them come in to your business (if it's large enough and public) and drop them in an empty conference room or turn it in to lost and found, saving you a lot of trouble. If they never reveal their phone number, an email would probably suffice as well.

Trap full -- please empty.