New Tactic in Identity Theft: Strongarm Robbery and Attempted Murder

I heard this today on Kim Komando’s Show here, and it struck me as such a simple and effective tactic, and one that has little to no defense. People are use strongarm tactics to steal laptops from cyber cafes, and in one case in San Francisco, a man was stabbed and his laptop snatched.

From EE Times Here:

Laptop robbers stake out S.F. cafes

Internet caf s are becoming dangerous places for notebook PC owners, San Francisco police told a city newspaper Saturday. In a San Francisco Chronicle story, city police noted that laptop robberies had jumped from 18 during 2004 to 48 in 2005, and are currently on pace to crack 70 this year.

Caf s offering wireless access are the new hunting ground for robbers, police told the Chronicle.

“To the criminal element, this is a valuable piece of equipment that they can quite easily cash in on,” the paper quoted Inspector Robert Lynch of the San Francisco police robbery detail as saying. “Where else do you have a thousand-dollar item sitting on a table in a coffee shop?”

Robbers sell the stolen computers on the street or on the Internet for as little as $200 or $300, police said.

Last month, a 40-year-old man was stabbed during a robbery in a Mission District coffee shop when two men — one roughly 15, the other about 20 — fled with his $2,500 Apple PowerBook. The man, who asked that his name not be used, recovered.

“You walk by any Starbucks and you see people with a laptop, it’s so tempting for the crooks,” added Inspector Lynch. “They walk in, right on top of the person, and the person has all their attention on the laptop. They snatch it right out from underneath their fingertips.”

So you need to take precautions when using laptops in public. No one in their right mind would sit in an area known to have a high crime rate and count out 2 thousand dollars in hundreds- the same should go for using a laptop in public.

Also, avoid laptop cases that prominently display your company’s logo. Some laptops from companies such as auditing firms may be higher value targets for theft because of the possibility of personal data contained on the hard drive. Maker sure your laptop is engraved with an identifying marker- whether it is an inventory control number, or if its personal, your own name. Make sure you keep a copy of the serial number at home in a safe place, so in case it does get stolen, you can report that information to the police.

While this story does not specifically mention identity theft, it is the next logical step. Laptops can be sold specifically for the purpose of harvesting the personal data on them, which could yield about 200 dollars more than the hardware itself.

Also, practice regular backups of your data, so if it gets stolen, you do not lose anything that is irreplaceable. One victim of a recent laptop mugging lost 2 years of research for his dissertation. A 95-cent CDRom-RW could have been his best friend. Also, regularly scrub your laptops of personal data, and pay attention to your search histories too. Its amazing what someone can figure out about you from your search history.

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