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My Laptop Was Stolen. What Do I Do?

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My Laptop Was Stolen. What Do I Do? (Cavan Images / Getty Images)
Question: My Laptop Was Stolen. What Do I Do?

College is difficult enough without having to worry about things like computer theft. But if the unthinkable happens and someone does walk off with your computer, an already-busy college life can suddenly get a lot more difficult. So just what are your options?

Answer:

Find an immediate, short-term solution. It's not like a computer theft ever really happens at a good time, and yet a stolen laptop does seem to occur during the worst parts of the semester. Consequently, don't make things even more challenging for yourself by not setting up some kind of alternative solution as soon as possible. Ask if you can borrow your friend's laptop for a little while; see where the nearest computer lab is (as well as what hours it's open); check with campus offices, like the IT department, to see if they have any loaner laptops for students who've lost their computers or had them stolen.

Let your professors and TAs know. If you have a major assignment, midterm, or exam coming up, zip a quick email to your professor (or, better yet, talk to them in person). Keep the drama to a minimum; you're just letting them know, not using the opportunity to present excuses. It takes less than a minute to send an email saying "I just wanted to let you know my laptop was stolen yesterday. While I'm working to find another solution, I did want to let you know that I'm doing my best to stay on schedule with assignments and other computer-based work." Even if you don't end up needing an extension, it's smart to be proactive in a situation where you might need a little help.

Talk to the campus police or the city police department. If someone ran off with your laptop, they obviously took something of high value. Even if you think you have a 0% chance of getting your computer back, it's still important to file some kind of report. You might need to show something to your professor, for example, to demonstrate that you really did lose all of your work 2 days before your final paper was due. If you or your parents file an insurance claim, you might also need proof of the theft; a police report can help substantiate your loss. Additionally, if your laptop is eventually found, having something official on file can help you get it back.

Let the staff know. If your laptop disappeared in a place like your residence hall, the campus coffee shop, or the library, let the staff know. You might feel like a dummy for leaving your computer unattended while you went to the bathroom or raided the vending machine, but you still should alert the staff. If your laptop was stolen off campus, let the staff of the store or facility know as well.

Look into replacement options. True, you'll probably need a new laptop of some sort. But before rushing out to buy one, see if the theft is covered under any kind of insurance policy. Did you purchase renter's insurance, for example, when you moved into your off-campus apartment? Or does your parents' homeowners policy cover theft in your residence hall? A few quick phone calls can possibly save you a lot of cash, so make the effort to investigate any insurance coverage you might have but didn't think about until now.

Figure out what data went missing. You might be so focused on losing things for your classes -- like your midterm papers and research -- that you forget about everything else on your machine. Identity theft, however, may be a major threat for you now. Did you have any banking information saved? What about automatic logins for things like email accounts, social networks, and online stores? If there's even the slightest hint that someone might have access to your personal data, call your bank(s) right away and place a fraud alert on your credit report.

Find another long-term solution. Unfortunately, getting another laptop right away might not be a realistic option for you, logistically or financially. If you're now stuck without your own computer, spend some time trying to find a reasonable long-term solution. (Note: Always planning on borrowing your roommate's computer will get really tricky really quickly.) Check out the computer labs on your campus; make sure you know their hours and plan in advance. See if and how you can reserve a computer in the library. Check with your campus IT department to see if they offer loaner machines or if, by chance, they have an old machine you can rent or borrow for the rest of the semester. Although there's nothing like having your old laptop back, with a little creative work you can find a solution that can carry you through.

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