Thursday, June 2, 2011

Stolen Laptop Nabs It's Thief

Too bad all stolen laptop cases don't turn out this well. The San Francisco Chronicle has the story of a Oakland computer programmer who had his laptop stolen. The laptop was equipped with software that snapped pictures using the laptop's camera and took screen grabs. These pics allowed the victim to help Oakland Police to zero in on the thief.

A Web campaign to catch the alleged thief was launched by Joshua Kaufman, who filed a police report in late March stating that someone had broken into his North Oakland apartment and stolen his Apple MacBook computer.

Kaufman said he had installed software called Hidden that followed the computer's movements through a tracking device, and took pictures of the suspect's face while the man used the laptop.

In one of the photos, the suspect appears to be driving with the laptop opened in his lap. In another, he peers into the screen while shirtless, and in yet another he's asleep on a couch.

The campaign picked up in earnest Tuesday after popular Web sites linked to Kaufman's blog, and Twitter users forwarded pictures of the bearded suspect to other users.

Laptops are expensive, portable and highly desired. Consequently, those same qualities that make them hot items for consumers also make them hot items for thieves. The excellent book Crime Analysis for Problem Solvers labels these types of items with the acronym CRAVED. I covered that chapter of the book here. The CRAVED acronym stands for:

  • Concealable. Things that can be hidden in pockets or bags are more vulnerable to shoplifters and other sneak thieves. Things that are difficult to identify or can easily be concealed after being stolen are also more at risk. In some cases, thefts may even be concealed from the owners of goods, as when lumber or bricks left lying around on building sites are stolen.
  • Removable. The fact that cars and bikes are mobile helps explain why they are so often stolen. Nor is it surprising that laptop computers are often stolen since these are not only desirable but also easy to carry. What is easy to carry depends on the kind of theft. Both burglars and shoplifters steal cigarettes, liquor, medicines, and beauty aids from supermarkets, but burglars take them in much larger quantities.
  • Available. Desirable objects that are widely available and easy to find are at higher risk. This explains why householders try to hide jewelry and cash from burglars. It also helps explain why cars become more at risk of theft as they get older. They become increasingly likely to be owned by people living in poor neighborhoods with less off-street parking and more offenders living nearby. Finally, theft waves can result from the availability of an attractive new product, such as the cell phone, which quickly establishes its own illegal market (see box).
  • Valuable. Thieves will generally choose the more expensive goods, particularly when they are stealing to sell. But value is not simply defined in terms of resale value. Thus, when stealing for their own use, juvenile shoplifters may select goods that confer status among their peers. Similarly, joyriders are more interested in a car's performance than its financial value.
  • Enjoyable. Hot products tend to be enjoyable things to own or consume, such as liquor, tobacco, and DVDs. Thus, residential burglars are more likely to take DVD players and televisions than equally valuable electronic goods, such as microwave ovens. This may reflect the pleasure-loving lifestyle of many thieves (and their customers).
  • Disposable. Only recently has systematic research begun on the relationship between hot products and theft markets, but it is clear that thieves will tend to select things that are easy to sell. This helps explain why batteries and disposable razors are among the most frequently stolen items from American drug stores.

I am sure that if you have read or written a few theft reports at your jurisdiction you can likely list quite a few items that are CRAVED by thieves. Knowing what is being CRAVED by thieves can help you to sharpen your enforcement or prevention efforts.

What goods are most often stolen in your jurisdiction?

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