Security 101

How to track and potentialle recover a stole device not protected by a security software

Recovering lost or stolen deviceWe get lots of questions from people that find about Prey only after their devices go missing, and we hate to tell them we can’t help them. So we decided to gather a few tips that may help locate a missing device without any anti-theft protection. There’s always hope!

0. Call your device

This sounds like a no-brainer, but for the sake of completeness: if you’re device is a phone, start by calling your self! If might just be lying under a couch in your friend’s place.

1. Look for the device’s unique ID

Every electronic device has a unique serial number and a UUID, and phones have an additional one: the IMEI or MEID. This will allow you to prove the device is yours, if needed.

Normally, you can get those numbers by looking underneath the battery, or in the settings menu if your device is an iPhone or iPad. Now, if the device is gone, you can also check the device’s original packaging, since they’re usually printed on the barcode or label of the box the device came in. In some cases you can find them in the original invoice.

Now, if it’s a SIM enabled device you should contact your service provider. They can lock down the chip plus provide the device’s IMEI since they should have this information. Very handy if you went with paperless billing!

If you managed to find one of these numbers, write it down, since they can be useful when you report the theft/loss of your device to the police. If they ever confiscate goods in a raid, you can claim your property if you provided that information when reporting the theft. According to Livemint,

Every time a phone logs into a particular network to make or receive calls, its IMEI number is automatically emitted and tracked. This gets registered with the service provider. […] The police has a database of phones which are in white, grey and black lists, so a phone which is in the black list is known to be stolen. Once it’s reported stolen by you, the IMEI number is blacklisted across the country. If an IMEI device on the black list is used to make a call, the police will get to know about it immediately. There is a chance that they will track the phone if it comes up for resale or reset.

2. Remote access means remote installing

Did you have LogMeIn or other remote desktop solution installed on your system? If that’s the case, you might be in luck! Even though watching what the thief is doing isn’t enough for catching him/her, there’s something better you can do: installing Prey! Wait for the right time when the thief clearly isn’t using the device (like a long idle time), and use the remote access to download Prey from our download page, install it, and set it up. Using this you can gather all the important data you need to alter the police, get your stuff back, and put the bad guys in jail—like webcam pictures, map location, IP address, and screenshots. We know this works.

LogMeIn is not the only choice, of course. Google Chrome also has a Remote Desktop extension that works pretty neat, but only on computers.

3. The IP Address might get you the real one

Did you know some of your daily-use apps and websites register your IP? Dropbox is one of them, as well as Gmail and even Facebook. The IP address is a unique number assigned to internet accesses by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and they do know the physical location of every IP address they assign.

Now, they don’t give away this information freely — you need a warrant to get it. So if Dropbox, Gmail or Facebook alerts you of an access from a strange IP (read below for how to get it), write it down and give that number to the police. If you insist enough they might request the ISP that owns that IP address to reveal the information.

This information may not be as solid as the location or the picture of the thief, but you can always give it a shot.


Dropbox’s background process usually starts when the system boots, so if the device is turned on it’s very likely to work. Just go to the Security tab and hover on the (i) listed on recent activity to see the devices’ last IP, like the picture below.

Dropbox (Tip and image via readwrite).


Gmail also records accesses and active connections. You can check it logging into Gmail, and then looking the right side of the footer: Last account activity: X minutes ago. Click now on details… and boom! You can see the latest 10 IPs accessing your account, plus the country, type of browser, and time. This is also helpful to end sessions if you forgot to sign out in other computers.


Just as in Gmail, Facebook logs your active sessions. Go to Settings, Security, and there’s the Active Sessions option. To see an IP address, hover on the session’s location. You can also close any forgotten sessions this way.

4. WANTED: Offer a reward

If you really, really want your device back and don’t care about throwing in some money, you could offer a reward for it. Yup, really. If it’s a phone, simply text your missing device “Hey, if you found this phone I’m willing to pay $X to get it back. Please reply.” or something like that. Keep it civilized, and don’t threat! You don’t know if the person reading that is truly the thief and also you do want your stuff back, right?

The other option is posting WANTED signs all over the neighborhood. It could be quite unpleasant, but if your device (or what’s in it) really matters to you, it could be your last chance. Tracking software needs devices to be turned on to work, and this oldschool solution may work even if they’re not:

Bonus: Learn from your mistakes, padawan

If you never see your beloved device again, maybe it’s time for you to reconsider some things. First and foremost, start by installing an anti-theft app like Prey on every device you own. Second, be careful—check all your important stuff before leaving and if you’re going to dangerous places, leave your expensive stuff at home. And finally, try not to leave your belongings unattended. Thieves love it when that happens.

Image: purplemattfish (cc)

About the author

Fabián Núñez

I love tech and Asian food. Headbanging since 2002. Overall badass.