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.