INSIDE EDITION I-Squad Catches Laptop Thieves In the Act

It's been reported a laptop is stolen about every 53 seconds and less than 2% of them are ever recovered. INSIDE EDITION's Chief Investigative Correspondent Lisa Guerrero took a laptop equipped with tracking devices to coffee shops and restaura

A brazen thief swipes a laptop computer at a busy restaurant. It happens hundreds of thousands of times a year, and for the victims, the loss can be devastating.

Gail Forsythe from Charleston, West Virginia made a heartbreaking 911 call when she realized her laptop had been stolen out of her car parked right in the driveway.

911 Operator: 911 what's your emergency?

Forsythe: Someone broke into my car and they stole my laptop computer, and I'm just really upset because my whole life was on that!

Forsythe told INSIDE EDITION, "I was just bawling my eyes out because I knew that someone else, someone bad, had my family's information and my information."

We wondered if we could catch a laptop thief, so we set up a sting. INSIDE EDITION's Lisa Guerrero placed a laptop on tables at restaurants and cafes. She put her jacket on the chair then briefly stepped away.

What would-be thieves didn't know is that we had security expert Jason Cecchettini, of secretly place a tracking device in our computer.

Guerrero asked, "They would never know there is a tracking system in this computer?"

"That's right. He could even get home, open it up, power it up and he could be surfing the internet while we are tracking him from the outside," said Cecchettini.

At a McDonalds in New York City, it didn't take long for our computer to attract interest. We watched as a guy calmly walked over, picked up our laptop and walked away. In no time, he was out the door.

Our producer, wearing a hidden camera, followed the computer crook on foot, but he slipped away in the crowded New York City subway. The laptop could be anywhere. So we wait in our van hoping to pick up a signal when the thief emerges from underground.

Thirty minutes later we got a signal on him.

Cecchettini said, "We got a location on him and it shows him in Brooklyn. He's at the corner of Fulton Street and Marcy Avenue."  Our thief traveled 10 miles to Brooklyn, so we hit the streets.

The signal led us to the second floor of an abandoned home. It was too dangerous for us to go in alone, so we asked officers from the New York police department to help. But without a search warrant,  we couldn't go inside the home.

So we tried again, this time across the country in Sacramento, California.

We went to a Starbucks with outdoor seating. Again, we placed the computer and jacket at a table and walked away.

We watched as a guy walked over, and after looking around to make sure the coast is clear, he took the computer, and Guerrero's jacket!  The chase was on as his trail took us on a winding ride through Sacramento.

Guerrero said, "Jason, I'm starting to hear beeps. What does this mean?"

"Now we're probably within two blocks of the laptop," said Cecchettini.

Then, all of a sudden we spot the guy. He was directly in front of our vehicle on a bicycle.  The jig was up.

"Excuse me, can we talk to you for a second. Were you just at a Starbucks with friends?" yelled INSIDE EDITION's Guerrero from the car.

"Yeah, I was just going to put your thing on Craigslist," said the man.

"You have our computer?" asked the Guerrero.

"Yeah," he said.

She couldn't believe how cool he was, so Guerrero got out to confront him, asking, "Did you steal my laptop?"

"I wasn't trying to steal your laptop," said the man.

But Inside Edition's hidden cameras captured it all on tape.  

Believe it or not, he said he took the computer so he could return it to its owner by placing an ad on Craigslist.

So where was the computer? We followed him back to his house where he handed it over.

So for thieves thinking about swiping a laptop, think twice, because you may be tracked down by the INSIDE EDITION I-Squad.

To prevent your laptop from being stolen, remember these tips:

  • Keep your laptop in an inconspicuous case. Flashy cases expose your computer by attracting thieves' attention. A simple padded messenger bag can suffice as a protective container.
  • Make use of such security measures as locks and cables. These security devices make theft more difficult and thereby discourage thieves from taking your machine.
  • When leaving a laptop in the office, make sure it is hidden and secured.
  • Be sure that all important data contained on the laptop is backed up.
  • When using a laptop at libraries, meetings, conferences, restaurants, or cafes, always keep it in your sight. Never leave it unattended, even for a moment.
  • Consider commercially available software like <a href="" target="_blank">LoJack for Laptops</a>, that can track your computer if it is stolen. (Gail Forsythe was able to recover her computer by using this software.)