Smarter ways to stop thieves: Spyware gains popularity

TULSA - Every day millions of Americans log on and log in. In doing so, they leave a path of personal information on their computer.

"My whole business is on my laptop," said Diane White. "Everyone who works for me, all of their work product is on our laptops."

White runs a full service marketing and public relations company, working with clients all over the country.  Everywhere she goes, her laptop goes with her.

"If it gets stolen I would like to get it back quickly," said White. "There is really important info on here. Some confidential info as well."

Diane is looking into getting protective tracking software installed. It's not a new service but experts say it has become increasingly popular lately. 

No one knows that better than Sgt. Shellie Wood with the Tulsa Police Department's burglary division.

"One of the number one things taken are small electronics," Wood said.
 
When a laptop goes missing and it's installed with some sort of tracking software, it's Wood who often gets called to track it down.

"Several months ago a business was broken into," Wood said. "Turned out it was the cleaning crew."

Using the tracking software from the stolen computers, detectives were able to recover all the computers and arrest the thieves. It worked that time because the victims immediately activated the software and informed police at the scene. Wood said in most cases too much time has passed.

"We want to focus on getting the burglar, so whenever a crime is reported and you have a program like that, if you will immediately activate it the chances we'll actually catch the burglar are high," Wood said.

But there's a catch. In order for any tracking software to work the thief must connect to the Internet.

"If a thief were to steal your laptop and it has importation information on it and they never connect to Internet, the program's no good," said Damon DoRemus with Geek Rescue.  

DoRemus said the most popular tracking software he gets asked to install is Lojack for laptops .

"You can log in to software via Web interface and can send a command to delete the entire drive, can even send a command to open up the camera," said DeRemus.
 
If you have Apple products, chances are you already have tracking software. Using iCloud you can send a command to "find my iPhone" or "find my computer." 

You can even wipe the device clean. But in order to really keep your personal information safe, experts recommend encrypting drives.

"There is a free tool out there called Truecrypt that allows you to encrypt an entire drive or specific info on the drive, because again, it's the data that's more important.  Not the laptop itself," said DoRemus.  

When it comes to tracking down stolen property, Wood said the department simply does not have the manpower to track down every stolen laptop.  Unfortunately, if police don't think an arrest can be made, your case won't be a priority.

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