The short answer: it’s unlikely you’ll ever get your stuff back. Even with anti-theft software, there’s no guarantee, but we constantly recommend installing software like Prey for this very purpose. If you don’t have tracking software installed, it’s obviously much harder to track your stuff. And if your thief is even the slightest bit intelligent, he or she would wipe your device as soon as they got it and you’d have no way of tracking it at all.
That said, you do have a last-ditch effort or two up your sleeve. Here are two things you might try.
Track Your Device’s IP Address with Gmail or Dropbox
If your laptop or smartphone was stolen, you can use a service like Gmail or Dropbox to find the IP address of your thief. When you log into those services from any computer, it logs the IP address used, and displays your last used IP in your account. In Gmail, it’s in the bottom right-hand corner under “Details,” and in Dropbox, it’s in Settings > Security under the details of each individual computer. If the thief used your computer, the last logged IP address may be theirs instead of yours. Again, though, if they’re smart, they didn’t use your computer and this trick won’t work.
Of course, knowing their IP only gets you so far. You’d still have to file a police report, send a subpoena to that IP addresse’s internet provider, and find out where they’re located, which could take a long time (one reader told us it took him a month to go through the process). We’ve had readers email us with success stories using this method, but they are few and far between. Whatever you do, don’t try to track the thief down yourself and get your gear back. That could lead to all sorts of trouble.
Track Your Android Phone with Plan B
If you have an Android phone running 2.3 or lower, previously mentioned Plan B is a pretty cool option. You can install it remotely from the Google Play web interface, after which it will start tracking your phone. However, if your thief has turned off the device, turned off internet connectivity, or wiped your phone, you’re completely out of luck, and have no way of tracking it.
Sadly, there is no equivalent for the iPhone, since you can’t remotely install apps on iOS.
Whatever You Do, There Are No Guarantees
In the end, there’s a good chance you’ll never see your stuff again, even if you did install tracking software beforehand (though there are quite a few success stories out there). If the above tricks don’t work, you can file a police report and give them your serial number, but there’s not much you can do beyond that.
We can’t stress this enough: the best way to avoid this situation is to take precautions ahead of time: install software like Prey, LoJack for Laptops, or Find My iPhone. Keep your gear with you at all times. Make sure your doors are locked. The best way to keep your laptop in your hands is to prevent it from falling into others’ in the first place. After someone steals it, you’re riding on luck.