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Macintosh, Mac Apps, iPhone, Steve Jobs, Apple

Local Mac Community Helps User Recover Stolen MacBook Pro

by Juan on December 29th, 2008

This story was written with the permission of the victim. Names were intentionally omitted for security reasons. The suspect is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

All’s well that ends well. Almost. One member of our PhilMUG community lost his laptop on the eve of his birthday. A thief broke into his car and stole his MacBook Pro along with some other gadgets. Due hard times the incidence of laptop theft has been getting higher. I personally know of 3 people who’s laptops got stolen recently. Sometimes, by some luck you’re able to recover your stolen laptop. That’s what happened to this person. He was able to get back his MacBook Pro with the help of our local community.

In the interest of protecting the member’s identity since the culprit is still under investigation and for security’s sake, I’ll be referring to the member as Lucky John.

On December 23, 2008 Lucky John gets a several private messages from forum members and moderators saying that an ad was placed for a second hand MBP that has the same serial number of his MacBook Pro. He posted the serial number of his MBP the day after it was stolen.

Lucky John checked the for sale ad and verified that the unit’s serial number was the same one as his. He contacted the seller, posing as an interested buyer. He asked several questions to get the seller to think that he was really interested. He even told the seller that he was getting the MBP as a Christmas present for himself.

That same morning they both agreed to meet so Lucky John can inspect the unit. Upon meeting with the seller he confirmed that the laptop was indeed his. This was verified through some marks on the unit. Even though the laptop was thoroughly cleaned and polished, some scratches could not be removed. A few more questions later and they both agreed on the price. Lucky John and the seller agreed to meet at 7 p.m. that same evening to conclude the transaction.

This is the part where it gets interesting…

Lucky John sought the help of local law enforcement agencies to conduct an entrapment operation. Several operatives from the law enforcement agency accompanied Lucky John to the coffee place where they agreed to meet that evening. Dressed in civilian clothes, the operatives positioned themselves in several areas of the coffee shop. When Lucky John hands over the money to the seller that would be the signal for the operatives to act and arrest the seller.

Lucky John saw the seller arrive at the coffee shop. He motions to him to join him at his table. After a final inspection and several minutes of small talk, Lucky John hands the seller the money. The law enforcement operatives take action and apprehend the seller.

The seller was taken to detention and a case will be filed against him for selling stolen property. The seller defended himself by saying he was also a victim. He said that he bought the MBP from another local web site and he was just reselling it. That being said there was still some deception on his part because when Lucky John asked him about the background of the machine he gave a totally different story. He said that the machine came from Australia. In any case his innocence or guilt will be determined by the court.

The reason I’m writing about this is to share the story about how a local Mac community was able to help in recovering a stolen Mac. There’s a big element of luck in this situation but it was also a result of several things that Lucky John did that also helped him recover his stolen Mac. Here’s some things to do if ever you have the bad fortune of having your Mac stolen.

1. Go to your local Mac communities or the Mac community where the Mac was stolen and report the stolen Mac. Post the details behind the theft and post the serial numbers. This will alert people to be on the look out for your Mac.

2. Report it to your local Apple service centers/stores as well. Especially those who also accept trade-ins for Macs. This will also help alert these establishments to be on the look out for stolen computers. There’s a chance that it might be be brought in for service by either the person who stole it or the person who unwittingly bought it.

3. Browse local sites/communities and other sites that post classified ads. Who knows your computer might end up being there.

Other tips to prevent or just to be safe are:

1. If you travel a lot it’s prudent to use encryption on your data. Mac OS X has File Vault.

2. Use a password for your account and set your Mac to automatically require a password when waking up from sleep or after a time from inactivity.

3. Backup your data. This should be a must for all to prevent total data loss. The hardest thing about a stolen computer isn’t so much that the hardware was lost but the data that you can’t replace. A computer can be replaced. Some data can’t be recovered once lost.

Lucky John’s case was an extremely lucky one. It goes to show that sometimes it does pay to be a part of a local community. The local community he belongs to was able to help him recover his stolen laptop. The people who alerted Lucky John about the stolen MBP also deserve a pat on the back. Their vigilance made one person’s Christmas just a bit better. If his data was recovered it would have made it perfect. Still the MBP back is better than nothing.

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POSTED IN: Commentaries, Juan's Posts, Security

3 opinions for Local Mac Community Helps User Recover Stolen MacBook Pro

  • Ken
    Dec 29, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Hello, my name is Ken Westin, I am the founder of GagdetTrak. We actually launched our new theft recovery product MacTrak ( http://www.mactrak.com ) with this community policing model in mind. If your Mac is stolen our software will get the location of the device via wi-fi networks, then capture an image of the thief using the built in iSight camera and upload the data and images to your Flickr account.


    You can then make the image public and ask assistance from social media sites etc, or just provide the data to law enforcement.

    I really love this story, any time we can catch these theives it is a victory for Mac owners everywhere :-)

  • App of the Week: MacTrak
    Dec 30, 2008 at 11:59 am

    [...] Westin from GadgetTrak left me a comment in my entry about the recovery of a stolen MacBook Pro. GadgetTrak is the maker of MacTrak, an anti-theft software for Mac OS [...]

  • Juan
    Dec 30, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Thanks for the message Ken. I posted an entry about MacTrak. Hopefully we can try it soon.

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