Protect Your Belongings

We haven't had our house burglarized in years. It stopped just about the time I started working from a home office.

That hasn't stopped me from worrying--and taking steps to safeguard our possessions. In fact, last year I wrote a column about preventing theft. I tackled the subject again more recently, in "Keep Your Notebook Safe."

But I'm not done: Kirk Steers put together a great piece on protecting your equipment, and a few years ago James Martin wrote about insuring your computer equipment (don't worry, the info's still valid).

Theft and loss are big deals. According to an ancient report from Safeware Insurance, there were more than 600,000 laptops stolen in 2003. That's over 1600 stolen every day. I can't imagine how the number's increased for 2006 (and won't because I can't find any current stats...).

Happy Holidays?

My guess is the threat increases during the holiday season, given that many homes have, well, more possessions. It may sound extreme, or even time-consuming, but you might consider taking an inventory of everything of value that's in your house.

The concept makes sense. But you can take it a step further, and register the serial number, brand and model, and other identification (preferably a photo of the product) with a reputable Web site. If the product's stolen or lost, and then recovered, law enforcement agencies or insurance companies can check the site's database. If your product's registered, your chances of getting your property back increase.

Most people file a police report, with a thorough description of their property, but unfortunately, it's often missing serial numbers. If that happens to, say, your laptop, it could sit in a police evidence room until it's sold at a police auction. And according to the FBI, only 2 percent of all stolen property is ever recovered.

Is It Just Stolen?

I talked to Tom Shea, a police officer with the Brookline, Massachusetts Police Department, about Juststolen.net. Shea developed this site, which lets you add the make, model, serial number, description, and an optional photo of a product into any one of 25 categories. "We want to make it easy to get the data into our database," said Shea. And at no cost, to boot.

You can register an unlimited number of items on the site; law enforcement agencies also get free access to the database. If a police agency finds an item, they check the site, match up the details, and you're on your way to getting your gear back.

By the way, it might seem obvious, but computers aren't the only items that can be registered on the site. You can register anything the site describes, including DVD players, jewelry, cameras, motor vehicles, TVs, MP3 players, and artwork. Look here for a list of recovered items.

Shea explained that "our goal is to get the items back to their owners, reduce the number of insurance claims, and identify the owner so a successful prosecution can take place." He said he doesn't make a dime from the site.

Does it work? Fortunately, I haven't had anything stolen or lost, so I haven't had a chance to test it. But you know darn well I'm going to spend the next few days finding serial numbers, taking pictures, and registering important items.

Dig This: Here's an advanced--and smart--parking technique.

More on Keeping Kids Safe Online

A while back I talked about using a keylogger called Spector Pro to keep tabs on kids' online activities. But let's say that you use the program diligently and review its activity logs, and come across something like this when you check the chat room transcripts: |-|1 +|-|3|23! \X/|-|@+'$ |_||*?

Time to panic? You won't know unless you can read Leet. Leet, from elite, is a modification of written text. It replaces letters with numbers and characters. If you have kids, my hunch is they're using Leet. No idea what I'm talking about? Don't worry, I dug up a video explaining it, an online translator, and a freeware translator.

Dig This: Snow's something I never have to deal with here in sunny southern California. Here's a video from my buddy Gabe K., who said, "I'd sit down and cry."

Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer, available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.

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