Bay Area man tracks stolen laptop for 2 years and 7,000 miles

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- Ever wonder where stolen laptops, cell phones and other devices end up? Turns out, they could be halfway around the world.

Michael doesn't want us to use his last name, but is an IT professional at a tech company in Berkeley. For the past few years, he's been tracking a stolen laptop.

"It's a cat and mouse game" he says.

His investigation into what happened started two years ago when when a colleague reported his laptop stolen. Michael is in charge of about 200 devices for his company.

"His computer was stolen from his car. We went to a Philz Coffee here in Berkeley and within 10 minutes he came back out to his car, the window smashed and his laptop gone," explains Michael.

Using his company's mobile device management software, he was able to wipe the computer clean and track its location, all the way to Vietnam.

Michael points to a map on a different laptop, showing a glowing dot. He can see the device's name has been changed to "Apple House" which is a company in Hanoi that sells computers. Through the MDM software, he's even able to send messages to the people at the other end, 7,000 miles away.

He never gets a response.

Michael currently oversees 177 phones and computers for his company and it currently tracking eight stolen or lost devices around the globe. He points to his screen again where the cities range from Austin Texas to Buffalo New York, to tiny cities in Georgia, and as far away as Mexico and Oslo, Norway.

Several years ago, San Francisco DA George Gascon noticed a sharp increase in mobile phone robberies and spearheaded a program to get smartphone makers to put a kill switch in their phones.

Alex Bastian, deputy chief of staff for the DA's office says cellphone crime is still a problem, but has decreased dramatically.

"It resulted in a million reduction in robberies, and that was in just one year."

Michael knows the odds of his device ever returning are slim to none. When asked if he ever had aspirations to go to Vietnam to retrieve it? He laughs and says "Absolutely not. I don't want to have anything to do with that."

Michael says even MDM software can remotely wipe clean or lock a computer down from anywhere in the world, it can be expensive to utilize on a consumer level. He suggests using software similar to "Find My iPhone" to achieve similar results.
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