How to Recover Your Stolen Phone, Tablet or Laptop
Ever since the proliferation of cloud storage, Dropbox, Google Drive, Find my Phone/App, etc, you would have thought that the number of clients we have for stolen device recoveries (laptops, phones, tablets) would have at least leveled off a bit. But they’re actually soaring, just like the overall number of thefts (of laptops and phones) in Cambodia, and globally.
There are so many folks out there who are still not protecting their personal data sufficiently, let alone sensitive financial data. So it’s time to break out the old Prey Project tutorial once again.
Yes, there are better apps out there (but not by much). And more stylish. But when it comes to price (almost free) vs. function, Prey is still the undisputed heavyweight champ. So let’s walk through the very simple steps you need to follow if you want to have any chance of a stolen device recovery.
- Top 3 computer crimes globally: hacking, viruses, and laptop theft.
- One out of every 10 notebook computers are stolen in the US (note: please don’t email and complain…when I have stats for Cambodian cyber crimes including run of the mill laptop theft I will gladly publish them…until then I’m stuck with the FBI’s).
- Nearly 90% of stolen devices are not recovered.
- Laptop theft doubled in 2016 and is nearing a 100% increase in 2017 as well.
- Over 80% of stolen laptops and smartphones are stolen by a thief who has met the owner in person at least once.
- Over 80% of US firms lost laptops or smartphones containing sensitive data in the past year.
So How to Recover Your Stolen Phone, Tablet or Laptop?
Our favorite choice is easy, and it’s (mostly) free: Prey
Prey is anti-theft tracking software for your laptop, phone and tablet that allows you to locate your stolen device remotely after logging into the Prey web platform.
Once you download Prey to the device(s) you need to protect, just be sure to store your login details so you can later access your control panel on another device should the monitored device be stolen.
And if your device is stolen, here is a quick how-to of what you need to do next. And by “next” I mean IMMEDIATELY! Not tomorrow, or later that afternoon, or after you call your best girlfriend to ask her advice on what you should do next, I mean literally the moment you notice it’s gone you need to pounce! As the first 24-48 hours are crucial with stolen property in Cambodia:
Step 1) Once logged in you will see the geo-location of your stolen device. Write this down on paper IMMEDIATELY (just in case your computer crashes or you lose power, connectivity to the net, etc).
Step 2) Take webcam images of the thief and/or surroundings if no one is in front of your device.
Step 3) Take screenshots of anything the thief might be currently viewing on your device, i.e. his/her web browser history.
Step 4) Store the webcam images of the thief (or at least of the background of wherever your stolen device is being stored) and the screenshots of the thief’s browser history on your device on a back-up device such as an external drive, or cloud storage system, Dropbox, Google drive, OneDrive, etc.
Step 5) THEN notify the local police authorities and give them a statement. But for God’s sakes, BRING AN INTERPRETER who speaks Khmer!
Would you go to your local police station in Miami, Florida to report your stolen laptop if you did NOT speak English? Would you report your stolen laptop to the police in Beijing if you did not speak a word of Mandarin?
Sure, you can try. And if you are extremely polite and apologetic for being an asshole tourist having the audacity to file a report without even a 5-10 word vocabulary in the local language, then maybe they go a bit above and beyond for you.
But if you think cops anywhere on earth where English is not the national language actually enjoy getting to practice their English just because you were too lazy to study their language before visiting their country then you are sorrily mistaken.
So it’s simple, even if you have to scramble around your city block near to your apartment or hotel trying to find the nearest tuk tuk driver with basic English comprehension, do it! You must assume that the sangkat police “office” you visit will be staff with cops who speak zero English whatsoever.
Step 5a) Upon arrival to the police station, FORGET about complaining because the Cambodian police “won’t do their job” or “don’t care about helping foreigners” or “are so lazy”, etc.
Let’s see how motivated you are when you make $100/month in salary and foreigner shows up to your office complaining about their $700 smartphone or $1,500 laptop that was stolen after they foolishly left their balcony window or door unlocked.
Step 5b) If you want Cambodian police assistance that is more than an empty promise to keep you happy and get you out of the door (and out of their police station), and you want it quickly, be prepared to fork over some cash, IMMEDIATELY.
However, you have to be subtle about it as there is a fine line you could cross in which you insult the police officer(s) taking the statement or embarrass him causing him to “lose face” (a loss of respect that is viewed by others nearby).
A common tactic that we use is to top-up the police officers mobile phones who are nearby and certainly whoever is actually taking your statement. If you have the ABA Bank mobile banking app you can do directly from the app and top-up anyone’s phone that you need to. Similarly, you can top-up with your Pi Pay or Pay-Go balance.
Topping up phones is just a less threatening, less in-your-face way to A) get their phone numbers which you might need later and B) to bribe them for assistance without making any overt bribes.
A $10 top-up for whoever is taking your statement is sufficient. If there are two officers taking your statement top-up both of their numbers with $5 each and it’s as simple as telling them, “I know that mobile phone calls are expensive in Cambodia and that your department might not reimburse all of your expenses such as phone calls so please allow me to top-up your phones with maybe $5 each and I’ll gladly top-up any other officer’s phone by a few dollars if they can help me make phone calls to the nearest pawn shops or anyone who can help us locate the device if the thief tries pawning it.”
However, do not make the assumption that your magical $10 or $20 bill just bought yourself a lifetime of loyalty and indebted servitude from that Cambodian police officer.
Nah. You bought yourself about 1-day. Maybe not even that. Maybe only half a day. So please understand that your initial salvo was just to get their attention. The sooner you can up the ante (i.e. a bigger bribe) the better for your cause.
Step 5c) Make sure those police officers understand that there is a cash reward for anyone who can help you relocate your stolen device. So then once all necessary information and contact details have been shared, you are faced with some options:
CONTINUE the investigation. For the cheap charlies out there feel free to hit the pavement and start visiting the local pawnshops to exchange numbers and to make sure they know you are offering a cash reward. And then make sure you visit each shift, each and every day, as you can almost guarantee that the morning shift clerk didn’t tell the evening shift guy, and the evening shift guy didn’t leave any notes/pass-ons for the next morning’s clerk, etc.
And then you get to network with the drug dealers. Well, the ice dealers to be specific. Unfortunately, though, if you need an internet how-to guide on networking with drug dealers then I’m sorry but this investigative tactic is not a good idea for you. So instead let’s skip to another viable option for you:
STAY in the rear (avoiding contact with the thief) and monitor and record as long as you can. You might get lucky and be able to negotiate a reasonable “ransom” for the return of your device. Even if it’s days and weeks. And, yes, we have had successful recoveries of stolen devices even after several months of the victim being forced to watch his own laptop thief masturbating on webcam images.
NOTE: If you see anything “sensitive in nature” like that, make sure you record it!
You’d be surprised how effective they can be in during a negotiation J
Or, if you get lucky and the thief lives within driving distance:
CONFRONT the thief at the addre….ah, you know what, disregard, um, never mind. The last thing I need is a lawsuit from some wannabe vigilante who thought it was a good idea to confront the iced-out junkie who stole his $400 Dell laptop.
So let’s forget that option even exists as no laptop or phone is worth your life.
Step 6) If you can’t get assistance from local police authorities and you are not comfortable confronting the thief on your own (which you should NOT, as it’s not worth the risk), or if you feel the laptop or phone might be destroyed or damaged before anything can be replaced, you have 2 options:
Option 1) You can trigger an audible alarm that alerts the thief he/she is being tracked.
RISK: The thief panics and drives away to a river and tosses your device to the bottom.
Option 2) You simply enact a self-destruct button which wipes the device clean.
RISK: If the sensitive data you needed to recover was sensitive company data, you could be in some serious hot water. The hard drive wipe down on Prey is thorough. You won’t be able to recover your files without very advanced software.
Final course of action
If the local police still won’t help you, then you can certainly consider hiring a private investigator. As far as private investigators in Cambodia, device recovery is among the easiest cases we get, especially if you have an app like Prey installed.
But even if you don’t have Prey installed, any decent private eye in Cambodia will know very quickly whether the initial rounds to the local pawn shops look promising so at least you won’t have to waste too much money on a lost cause it appears to be non-recoverable.
Costs for a private investigator in Cambodia
Most private investigators will try to convince you they are paid (only) by the hour. But if you think their hourly rate is too high offer to pay them a daily rate instead ($100-$150/day should work).
In Cambodia I’ve billed clients as high as $100/hour and as low as $20/hour. And, of course, I’ve done plenty of work pro bono. However, much of the hourly billing can be confusing as it comes down to complexity. So try to negotiate a daily rate instead.
As for [P]hnom [P]enh [I]nvestigations and our track record?
If the client lost the device within 24-72 hours our recovery percentage is actually quite high and we can confidently give you a 50/50 chance.
However, if more than about 48 hours have elapsed they drop like a rock.
If it’s been more than 48-72 hours, no matter which private investigator you use in Cambodia, your chances of recovery are less than 10%.