Communications coordinator for USF’s Bulls Club Collin Sherwin was just getting back from lunch on a Thursday afternoon when he noticed something important missing from his office.
“I had left my laptop on my desk, like I always do, and somebody just came in and took it,” Sherwin said. “I had heard there were several reports of laptop theft on campus, but I thought those were more from people who had left theirs out over the weekend. I take mine home every night.”
A total of 34 laptops were reported stolen in 2005, and 32 of them were taken between October and December.
This month alone 13 laptops have been stolen, with the most recent theft occurring Monday afternoon.
University Police officials said they are looking into one suspect who had been convicted of stealing two laptops last November.
“There’s really no one location where these thefts are occurring,” UP Detective Christine Bennett said. “This has been happening all over campus.”
Bennett said last year some laptops were recovered from local pawn shops, but so far none of the 13 laptops have been found.
“A lot of them are sold locally right on the street corner or the pawn shop or at the flea market, and a lot of them can get sold on eBay where they get sold pretty fast,” said Ben Haidri, vice president of marketing for Absolute Software.
Absolute Software sells computer-tracking systems to other companies and individual customers in the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa and some parts of Europe.
One of their products, called LoJack, can be used to deter laptop theft. Once the software is installed, the computer will communicate with the company’s main system in Vancouver.”It contacts our monitoring center daily to make sure everything is okay,” Haidri said. “If it’s been stolen we flag that in our database and we start collecting information that’s used to help recover it.”
Information from Internet protocol addresses, log ins and e-mail addresses are used to locate stolen computers.
“When your laptop gets stolen, we ask for you to file a report with us and also file a police report with your local police,” Haidri said. “Those two things come into our database, and then we tell our piece of software to start calling every 15 minutes.”
After the data is received, system monitors contact local police officers and work to issue a subpoena to get an address from the local Internet service provider, Haidri said.
“We have to be able to uniquely be able to identify that existing machine when a warrant gets issued,” he said.
From there, a warrant may be issued and local law enforcement can physically retrieve the computer from the home of the suspected thief.
“We have a good relationship with a little over 800, maybe 900 different law enforcement agencies that we’ve worked with over the years,” Haidri said.
According to Haidri, LoJack can be purchased at computer retail stores such as Best Buy and Circuit City.
The suggested retail price is $49.99 for the first year of service and can be purchased at $129.99 for a four-year plan. After 30 days, if the computer still isn’t located, customers can expect a full refund.