You CAN recover stolen or lost gadgets, but it ain't easy

We carry expensive gadgets on us all the time now. On a flight we listen to music on an iPhone or read on a Kindle ebook reader. We watch movies on an iPad or play Angry birds on an Android. But what do you do if you misplace that device, or worse it is stolen? What recourse do you have to get it back, if any? Who do you call, or contact for help, and what can you do to be prepared beforehand to help in getting it back yourself?

In this article I will do a quick rundown of types of devices that are most commonly lost or stolen and go over some basic rules of the road beforehand with any new gadget or device you have.

Keep It In Your Records Rule

The following things you can do for any new gadget or product purchase. Simply: Put it in your personal records. This is a simple and easy to-do process for anyone:

  1. Take a few picture of the device. Keep a visual record, which some insurers will demand.
  2. Write down the make and model of the device. It helps to know just what you have so you can claim it later.
  3. Write down the serial number and or any other device specific identification numbers such as ETIM, MEID, FSN, and MAC address numbers of the device. This is important for reporting lost or stolen products as these numbers cannot be changed in most electronics and are hardcoded in most of them.
  4. Keep a copy or scan of the original receipt and store it with the documents as a PDF or as an actual printed copy. Proof of purchase always helps, and if you want to resell later you can hand it over on bill of sale for the new owner and a note showing the transaction.

Device specific Rules

Tablets, Cell Phones, and Computers. First, follow the rules above. But if you want to be active in your devices' return there are a couple of tools that can help.

Apple iPads and iPhones are known for their Find My iPhone app that was included in the the 2009 update of the MobileMe platform but now supports iPads as well in iCloud. Just remember to have your free iCloud account setup and have "Find My iPhone" installed. If you don't have 3G or you have a lost iPod, the app will still work as it uses WiFi SkyHook enabled Geo-Location information. It will even let you lockdown the device from further use and send messages to the person who might have it, to possible comical effect.

For users of the Windows Phone platform, Microsoft took a page right from Apple's playbook with their own Find A Lost Phone service. They even have a simple set of instructions on their website.

For Android phone and tablet users, as well as iPhone/iPad 3G users who don't want to use Apple to track their device, there is one of my favorite free and opensource projects, The Prey Project. What's even better is it also supports Windows, Apple Macintosh, and Linux installed laptops as well with native clients. Prey project is basically a free, up-to-3-devices clone of Find My iPhone but in many ways better. The tiered pro version can even be implemented to track entire enterprise setups of devices. What's even nicer, the app/service can use your phone, tablet, and even your computer, to take pictures of the person using the device. It can also send messages just like Find My iPhone and it too can lock down a device while giving you GPS / WiFi Geo-location directions to where it is located.

Lastly, if you have a stolen or lost cellphone, hotspot, iPad 3G/4G, or cellular supported tablet or notebook, report it to your mobile service provider. The Federal Communications Commission announced back in April that all four major US cellphone carriers have agreed to deny cell and data service to stolen phones, and contribute the serial numbers of those phones to a national mobile device database. It is reported that this service will go live in the middle of July with AT&T. They will lead the charge with a new service that will allow customers to deny voice, data and SMS access to any individual phone or tablet. All of this while keeping their account intact, avoiding the inconvenience of a full SIM block.

Ebook Readers. The ebook market is full of one-off devices but if your device is not Internet connected you may never see it again -- save for a lucky lost and found hunt. The king of the devices though is the Kindle. But the sad fact is unlike some cellphone providers with mobile phones, Amazon wont help you get it back. On Amazon's help page they write the following advice:

  1. Lost or stolen Kindle.
  2. First, deregister Kindle via the Manage Your Kindle page. To file a police report, please contact your local police department. You will also want to make sure that you cancel any active Kindle subscriptions on the Manage Your Kindle Subscriptions page. Canceling the subscription will ensure that you are no longer billed; you'll also receive a pro-rated refund for remaining issues you already paid for. You always have the option of subscribing at a later date.
  1. I found a Kindle.
  2. Please turn the Kindle device in to an appropriate lost and found, or turn it in to the local authorities. If you'd prefer, you can also send the device to be recycled by our certified recycler, Eco International. You can create and print your own prepaid UPS shipping label through Eco International's website. Visit ecotakeback.com/kindle for further instructions.

Those instructions are not very helpful though. It is like they want you to buy a new kindle instead of getting yours back. Again, the best bet is to follow the Keep It In Your Records Rule.

Kindle's serial number is on the outside of the box it came in, a reason to keep the box. The serial number can also be found in the Settings menu on your Kindle. All the MAC address and cellular number information is on that same Settings menu page as well.

Cameras. As with most modern devices the information about your camera can be found in the about or settings menu. One nice thing though is besides reporting it to the police you can also report the lost or stolen device to the original manufacturer. If the camera ever comes in for repair or resale at a pawnshop or used electronics store it can be red flagged and held for further investigation.

ALWAYS CALL POLICE FIRST

If you ever do have a gadget stolen remember to call the police first and report it. You never know what kind of dangers or even possible organized crime might have their hands on your stolen device. In the past police have been slow to act on device theft reports. But in recent cases of public embarrassment of the police, where people had reported the name, address, and personal contact information of the person who had the device, cops have made device thefts a higher priority.

In New York City the NYPD now even trains their police officers on how to use several of the personal tracking software tools used by consumers today.

But in the end, you are your best chance of getting your device back as long as you follow the Keep It In Your Records Rule.

Photo Credit: RioPatuca/Shutterstock

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