Electronic devices at risk as most stolen items on campuses

For smartphone, tablet or iPod owners, the risk of theft is marginally greater than other items students typically possess. Because of their small size, cachet and high resale value, personal electronics pose a tempting target for many people looking to make a steal.

According to the latest available Georgia Tech Police Department (GTPD) statistics, 236 instances of larceny occurred at Tech from January to June of 2012. This was more than the number of all other crimes committed in the last three years combined.

GTPD Officer Preston Moss indicated that the majority of these crimes fall under the umbrella of electronics thefts, and the activity is mostly concentrated in buildings open to the public.

“If we had a map to show where these thefts are happening, the majority of them [would take place] in buildings open to the public, such as the Student Center, the Clough Undergraduate Learning Center and places up in Tech Square like the College of Management.  The library also will occasionally see some hits.  We’re also getting a lot reports taken from the CRC, upstairs on the basketball courts and the SAC field,” Moss said.

Moss indicated that at Tech, laptops are the single most commonly stolen items. In terms of other devices that have a high likelihood of being targeted, smartphones, the iPhone in particular, come in second.

In recent news, the theft of Apple products hit the national spotlight with the New York Police Department’s release of statistics showing that incidents of Apple products being stolen have spiked in New York over 40% this year to 11,447 through Sep. 23rd. This was over 14% of the city’s total reported crimes.

According to the personal electronics insurance company Worth Ave. Group’s  spokeswoman Gretchen Cathey,   her company’s statistics in part mirror trends at Tech and in NYC, showing that iPhones are the number one item that the company receives insurance claims related to thefts for.

“My personal opinion as to why iPhones are number one is that everybody has one, and once they’ve been wiped clean it’s very hard to tell if it was stolen or not. Also, iPhones hold their resale value well, so they can be easy to flip on eBay or craigslist,” Cathey said.

Cathey rounds out the list of categories of devices most commonly stolen on college campuses  with iPads and laptops, as well as other electronic products such as cameras and iPod Touches that students commonly have on their person.

While an insurance plan from a company like Worth Ave. can help minimize the consequences of device theft, ideally thefts can be prevented in the first place.  Both Moss and Cathey emphasized common-sense measures as deterrents to theft, particularly never letting valuable devices out of your sight.

“We get claims every day from people who were sitting at a restaurant or bar not paying attention [with their phone out], who turn around and their phone’s gone,” Cathey said.

Negligence is a sure-fire way to become vulnerable to theft. It is vital to never feel completely safe from potential thieves in any situation, whether there are many people around or even when sitting alone.

“You would be surprised how fast something could get taken,” Moss said.

Outside of paying attention to the whereabouts of one’s devices, both Moss and Cathey had something to say about mitigating the risks of device theft.  Moss recommended that students register valuable property with a high probability of being stolen, including smartphones, gaming consoles and TVs with the Tech police department, and mentioned that the software tracking recovery system “Lojack for Laptops” is available at a heavy discount to students, faculty, and staff on the “Lojack For Laptops” website, tailored especially for Tech.

“We do bicycle and property registration.  It’s not… a preventative measure, but what it does is allow students to register their property with us, so we can develop a database of their contact information and their property information.  So if it is stolen or lost and we come across it in the field, we’re able to cross-reference the serial number with that property so we can make contact with that student,” Moss said.

Cathey recommended her company’s network communications-based tracking system WorthTrack, but also emphasized the value of insurance to protect against not only theft but also accidental damage, estimating that 40% of devices are damaged in the first year of ownership.

Periodic backups of laptop computers are another important precautionary measure that could make the difference between a laptop theft being the cause of a really bad day or an absolute disaster. To many, computers aren’t as valuable as the data they store and the software they run.