GSA gets quick payback from antitheft app

In a matter of months, a General Services Administration office in Atlanta recouped the
$6,000 investment it made in notebook PC theft prevention software.


GSA and federal law enforcement officials in Atlanta earlier this year recovered three
stolen notebook computers, breaking up a ring of PC thieves in the process. The Federal
Protective Service traced the stolen notebooks using CompuTrace software from Absolute
Software Corp. of Vancouver, British Columbia.


“I think we will be using it more,” GSA spokesman Gary Mote said.
“Laptops can walk away real easy.”


Mote said that the three recovered Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. Tecra
500CDT notebooks are worth between $3,000 to $5,000 each.


“The software is paying for itself,” Mote said. The agency’s Public
Buildings Service office in Region 4 bought 150 copies of CompuTrace for less than $3,000
in June 1997 and pays around $3,000 more annually in service fees [GCN, Aug. 4, 1997, Page 53].


About 21/2 weeks after the January heist, the software vendor called the FPS in Atlanta
with the phone number from which one of the stolen notebooks had been dialing.


CompuTrace sets a notebook’s modem to call a server over a toll-free 800 number at
regular intervals. The server records the date, time, caller identification information
and phone number.


With the number in hand, FPS officers got a court order to get subscriber information
from the telephone company and also enlisted help from the Secret Service, Mote said.


The service got a search order and within 48 hours arrested a man in College Park, Ga.,
who had the Tecra as well as a stolen Compaq Computer Corp. notebook, Mote said.


The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta dropped government property theft charges,
however, after obtaining cooperation from the man, a native of Senegal, West Africa. He
directed FPS and Secret Service agents to a second Senegalese national, who had another of
GSA’s Toshiba Tecras and eight other stolen notebooks in his possession.


“He had the means to distribute them,” Mote said of the second man. The
Atlanta U.S. Attorney’s Office also dropped charges against him and instead referred
the case to the Immigration and Naturalization Service because the man is an undocumented
immigrant subject to deportation to Senegal.


The two men had been sharing shopping lists of desirable notebooks to steal, Mote said.
While working as GSA contract employees, they had taken the notebooks from a secured area
without leaving any evidence, he said.


FPS officers speculated that the first man was using his two stolen computers to access
bank accounts and attempt to commit financial crimes over the Internet, Mote said.


A third Toshiba notebook was recovered after an unrelated theft in Columbia, S.C., for
which FBI agents arrested a man in Charlotte, N.C. None of the three recovered notebooks
suffered any damage, Mote said.


More than 400,000 computers were stolen last year, according to Safeware Insurance
Agency of Columbus, Ohio.


Thefts of desktop computers had dropped sharply from the previous year, but notebook
thefts rose 17 percent, Safeware’s figures showed.  

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