My laptop was stolen at Starbucks. How I will protect myself from now on.

I’m sitting in Starbucks the other night writing my next book, when a hoodlum sneaks up behind me, yanks my laptop away as I was using it, and races out the door. I immediately jumped up out of my seat and chased after him while trying to call the police on my cell phone. The thief had a friend waiting outside with him and they ran away together. Being quite fast myself, I kept up with no problem, though I had no intention of confronting them, not knowing if they were armed and outnumbered two to one. I was just hoping to keep them in sight and tell the cops what was happening.

After three blocks of chasing them (and unable to successfully dial the police while running and trying to keep an eye on them in the dark of night), they jumped in a car, in which a third person was waiting, and they drove away. Just as I thought I lost them, a cop pulls up and says not to worry because they had other cops on the ground and an airplane overhead following them. (This undercover policeman was waiting in the Starbucks and sat near a guy with a Mac since those are more valuable than my HP.) A good citizen in the neighborhood had told the police that a car parked a number of times in front of his house and suspected that they were up to no good. These criminals (or others like them) had stolen laptops from Starbucks customers a number of times in the Phoenix area (fifteen times according to one article) and once before at this Starbucks. The police staked out this Starbucks for two weeks waiting for these criminals to act. The thieves were immediately caught and will soon be prosecuted. My laptop was returned to me within an hour. However, the computer has some damage—a dent on the lid, the lid no longer closes perfectly, and the laptop wobbles when it is place on a flat surface. The laptop is still “usable” but it is just three months old and I don’t expect to use a broken computer for another two to four years. I’m not sure if this can be repaired or how much such repairs would cost. I may have to buy a new one, but I should be able to get some decent money for the old one, or donate it to a school or other charity.

I must congratulate the Phoenix police on a job very well done. Their great police work involved intelligence and perseverance. They not only saved my laptop, but they prevented other thefts by catching the criminals

Unfortunately, a number of other people had their laptops stolen and they never got them back. I feel bad for those victims. And while I feel unlucky that the same happened to me, I feel very fortunate that the thieves were caught and my laptop was returned with very little fuss.

Now for some advice: If you have a laptop and you are at Starbucks or another place like that, sit far away from the door so that the thieves cannot easily jump in and out. If you are in an open area (public park or food court), try to sit in a crowded area so that the thief has no clear exit path. This applies whether you are using your laptop, phone, or even if you have a briefcase by your side. As Wild Bill Hickok supposedly said, try to sit with your back to a wall and never sit with your back to the door.

Additionally, get yourself a laptop cable lock and secure your laptop to the table. Furthermore, you should never have your internet browser on your laptop remember your passwords to bank and credit card accounts. I don’t care too much if a thief gets into my facebook account, but I certainly don’t want him stealing all my money. And you should set the laptop to go to sleep when the lid is closed and require a password to get back in. The average thief is no hacker and this will help prevent your data from being stolen.

UPDATE: I forget to mention, probably because it is so obvious, that you have to be sure to back up your laptop in case it is stolen or, more likely, you have computer problems. I have a desktop and laptop and sync my date between the almost daily. I also back up my data onto a USB thumb drive at least once a week.

– Michael E. Newton is the author of the highly acclaimed The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s Descent into Tyranny and Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers: The Fight for Control of the American Revolution. He is currently writing a book about Alexander Hamilton and his legacy.

8 responses to “My laptop was stolen at Starbucks. How I will protect myself from now on.

  1. Wow, I’m glad you didn’t get hurt & was able to get your laptop back. It amazes me how brave these thieves are getting.

    And, thanks for the tips!

  2. Michael, You learned a valuable lesson, and hopefully not so easily that it wears off. Yes, always choose the “gunfighter seat,” back to the wall, aware of who’s around and entry/egress layout. Bags and other off-body goods should be in physical contact with you if you’re serious, like the shoulder strap around your inside leg, etc. Get and read The Truth About Self Protection by Ayoob, for the whole magilla, from evasive driving to planting cactus near your windows. You gave chase, that’s pretty ballsy, without so much as pepper spray in your pocket. If they turned on you with a weapon, you’d have gotten a crash course in another valuable lesson — the best gun is the one you have. Glad you’re OK. Alan.

  3. I doubt that at least one of them will get any jail time. I live in Yuma and I was dating his uncle and eneded up having to put a restraining order on him but he was never arrested for destroying my things hitting me and spitting on me. I have a special needs child but the police have not even followed through with my reports and this man has an extensive criminal record for similiar offenses. He told me once that his brother who is the father to one of the teens works for the city and his family has connections so as far as I am concerned AZ doesn’t really care about anything but catering to their friends.

  4. I’m convinced 3 people but one obvious ring leader tried to pull this on me this evening. They did not get far just from the initial feeling I got from them even as they were walking outside into the store. Just the way they were clocking – but not stopping just scanning as they came inside.

    I was sitting at one of the cushiony seats with one directly facing me with a round knee level table in the middle. No one was sitting in the seat across but no one does unless it’s a guest or someone who asks.
    Common courtesy!

    So the 3 young people 2 guys and one gal (the girl looked UBER nervous).
    She sat kind of facing the area where the till is almost looking at what the employees were doing.

    The ringleader guy, immediately as they came in sat very fast in the seat right across from me, but since I had the feeling about these guys I Pushed the table into his knees as I’m folding the laptop closed (as it locks it) and putting my papers right on top where I start writing on it.
    They seemed kind of stunned but they all syncronistically all pulled out their cellphones to pretend they were accessing the web. The guy to my right who actually pulled up wooden chair from another table to sit RIGHT NEXT TO ME ! He was smirking kind of when he was trying to connect his phone to the web while I looked at him -this all happened very fast- the oddest thing and they had effectively a triangle on me. BUt it was futile for them as I was faster and there was literally a full house in the starbucks. I have one of those shiny silver mac book pros (bought it used for a couple hundred) but it’s OBVIOUSLY a heat score. wow. Never had any problems with my older mac laptop powerbook. It was odd because I was actually going to go to the washroom like 5 mins before as I have before there leaving the laptop there but closed as it’s a mellow town with mostly seniors.
    But these guys were from the other city passing through – maybe with that sole agenda. So glad I did not go away from the table as they could have been outside for a while -but it was dark couldn’t see that far.
    The ringleader was obviously distressed due to my shoving the table into his shins but he was so rude regardless he deserved that. They said a few things to themselves about -ok connected to the web- but they left literally 20 seconds after they sat down. So that was a definite in my mind of an attempt. One of those unique experiences! But what I’m going to do now is get one of those little thin metal cables that you loop into the security thing on the laptop and then loop that onto the furniture if I’m going out with it.
    Maybe I’ll just stick with using my 1999 pismo. I’d be sad if that got swiped though too. They followed the old factor of doing things in visible light, very obvious they made it look like they were coming to see me as a friend but their error was they didn’t say a word to me. The Lady behind me was shook up too as she was watching the whole thing. She was on a laptop too actually there were 5 older folk in there with laptops and I almost have a feeling the burly dude near the exit was a cop with a macbook pro watching. that would be interesting, kind of a tie in with your story. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hard to say, but could be. Different style that what happened here, where the thieves didn’t try to act smooth but simply grabbed and ran.

      Did you contact the police about it? You might want to and have them advice the Starbucks in your neighborhood about what happened here in Phoenix and that something similar might be happening by you.

  5. I had my laptop open and walked ten feet away to order a coffee to go. I was at the Starbucks on Rosecrans ave in San Diego near the point Loma area. The place was packed with students. when I was at the counter I looked over at my computer just to make sure it was safe. When I did there was a black man in his late 20’s with a red USC sweater on standing in front of my HP laptop. He than grabbed it and I yelled at him and he bolted out the door. I chased him for 3 blocks and he kept looking back to see if I was there. As he rounded the corner there was a white lexus waiting for him in the middle of the street with the passenger door open. I got the license plate as he passed by me and another customer who ran out after him. I
    called 911. within 5 minutes there were 3 San Diego police officers there and a helocopter. I was impressed with the response however they didnt
    catch the thief. When I returned to the store,I witnesses were telling the police there was a second guy casing the place on the other side of the store. He must have ran out and got the car as I chased the first guy. They
    had it all planned out and they must have been watching me for sometime.
    The police told me they will follow up with a detective and not to leave any computer or phone not for one minute at a coffee shop alone. I felt I was safe with so many people in a store and in such a good neighborhood. I was wrong.
    Lesson learned the hard way. 😦

    • Sorry to hear your story, Jeff.

      I am more conscious now of where I sit. Were you near the door? I was when my laptop was stolen. Now I sit farther away from the door

    • Another thing I do now is to back up my laptop before I head out to Starbucks. And when I’m at Starbucks and head to the restroom, I back up whatever I’m working on onto a flash drive. The lost data/time is much more valuable than the laptop itself, at least in my case where I have a 2-year old laptop that’s probably only worth $200-$300 today.

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