Laptop detectors: Truth or Myth?

The Internet is abuzz with talk of laptop detectors which are used by thieves to target vehicles with laptops in them. These laptop detectors are devices that can somehow detect the presence of laptops in vehicles, even in the trunk. Is it true?

According to anecdotal information, the thieves scan vehicles with these devices and somehow can KNOW that the vehicle contains a laptop. Speculation into how these devices work include detection of metal, electromagnetic waves, radiation, and radio frequencies.

Many posts have been made by electrical engineers and other knowledgeable people informing the public that these laptop detectors DO NOT EXIST most of these hypotheses are wrong. Those which are hypothetically correct require equipment that is either too expensive for most small time criminals, or just too bulky to be used without being detected.

There is, however, ONE news article from June 2005 stated that UK police discovered thieves using Bluetooth phones to detect mobile phones and laptops in vehicles. There IS one catch – mobile phones and laptops can only be detected if they are switched ON.

It is more likely that criminals target victims through more conventional methods, like social engineering. Through simple and careful observation of their potential victims, criminals mark those who are more LIKELY to carry a laptop.

Some simple social engineering methods used:

Watching whether the victim places any bags in the trunk before leaving the car.
Targeting victims working in offices, banks and corporations, or even college students.
Using other profiling indicators such clothes and hangout spots, such as free wifi access areas.

Other posts include very simple and practical measures to take to counter the chance of theft. These measures include:

1. Leave your laptop at home.
2. Take your laptop with you.
3. Place your laptop in the trunk BEFORE leaving for your destination, instead of on arrival.

Some of the more elaborate and offbeat measures that have suggested include:

Removing the battery from the laptop.
Installing a personal safe in the trunk and keeping the laptop in it.
Keeping the laptop in a metal box in the trunk.

Last but not least, the measure supposedly suggested by a news item on TV3 –
Use a periuk (a pot) to cover the laptop.