What I Learned from Having my MacBook Stolen

Apple logo on the exterior of a MacMy roommate and I have been excited to move for almost a month. We paid rent on two apartments this month just to get the place we wanted. Eight days before we were scheduled to move we went to a bar in our new neighborhood for trivia. While we were gone we had our apartment broken into and our computers stolen.

We called the police, an officer arrived quickly and he was very thorough while filing his report. After looking through the apartment he concluded that there were no signs of forced entry and we confirmed that the only things missing were the computers. His guess was that whoever it was had access to our apartment and knew exactly what they were looking for. After he left we fired up Find My iPhone, locked down our stolen Macs, set them to erase if turned on and went to sleep.

The next morning we filed insurance claims. Brandon’s documentation was fairly easy, he’d just purchased his iMac three or four months ago and still had the box and receipt. My MacBook Pro was purchased in 2014, so it was little more difficult. Thankfully after a quick phone call Apple found my original invoice and emailed to me.

Our next call was to U-Haul to book a truck to move us the hell out of that apartment. Over the next three days we moved everything we owned across town to our new place. I got my insurance claim accepted, purchased a new iMac and migrated my data over from a Time Machine backup.

This weekend was stressful, to say the least, and I would not wish the situation on anyone. In the event that it happens to you, here are a few cautionary elements to my tale of technical theft.

Document Everything

When it comes to leases, major purchases and insurance documents you should be keeping hard and digital copies of everything. Having searchable PDFs of our lease and insurance policies would have made the claim process a lot simpler, but the hard copies were a life saver.

Dropbox, Apple Notes and Evernote all have really solid document scanners built into their mobile apps. Take a few minutes on a rainy day and scan your important documents, you may need them some day.

Pay for Renters’ Insurance

Paying $15 each month ended up saving me $1,300 on a new Mac this week. And because my insurance covers my possessions at replacement cost the payout was for the price of a new machine rather than the value of my four-year-old one. There have been enough advancements in computers in the last four years that I’m actually getting a decent little upgrade out of this too.1

Keep Back-Ups

A lot of my non-techie friends roll their eyes at the obnoxious old hard drive I keep at my desk. It spins up every three or four hours and when it does it is loud. However, as I type this my new iMac is restoring all of the data that was on my old MacBook from the night before it was stolen. Repurposing an old hard drive for Time Machine or a similar back-up solution will save you a ton of time and headaches if this happens to you.

I store all of my active documents (current projects, raw podcast audio, receipts, etc.) in Dropbox, so all of that will come down from the cloud pretty fast. My music library and photo library are backed up through Apple Music and iCloud Photo Library respectively so those will be back soon enough too.

My concern coming out of this burglary is that the thieves could have easily snatched my Time Machine drive when they took my MacBook. Needless to say, I’ll be looking into cloud-based back-ups this week.

Use Find My iPhone/Mac

Find My iPhone/Mac is turned on during the setup of every Apple product, and I’m assuming similar solutions exist for Android. This was crucial because it allowed us to remotely wipe our machines as soon as the thieves turned them on.2 We all leave a lot of digital fingerprints behind on our devices and the last thing you need after losing a laptop is having your identity stolen.

I received an email the day after my MacBook Pro went missing saying that the machine had been powered on and immediately wiped itself clean of all user data. That was the most satisfying email I’ve gotten in months.

  1. I’m going from a 2.6 GHz Intel i5 in my 2014 MacBook Pro to a 3.0 GHz i5 in my 2017 iMac with the same stock RAM and a 1 TB HDD instead of a 256 GB SDD.

  2. The only frustrating part of setting this up is that it basically guarantees you won’t get the GPS blip of where your device has been taken. Since we knew ours were insured it was easier to just wipe them than try to recover them.