Track Down and Recover Your Stolen Laptop With Prey

Justin Pot 15-07-2010

recover stolen laptopLoJack is a device that’s made life harder for would-be car thieves. Here’s how it works: a GPS chip capable of calling home is hidden somewhere on a given car. If that car is stolen, the police now have the ability to track where it is via GPS.


Wish you had something like this for your laptop? You can, and it won’t cost you a dime. Open source program Prey can do this for your computer quickly and easily, giving you the location of your computer via your on-board GPS chip or by analyzing nearby WiFi networks. Not only that, it will show you screenshots of what the thief is using your computer for. And if you have a webcam, even take a picture of them before they realize it, before you recover your stolen laptop.

We’ve reviewed similar programs before — Lalarm LAlarm Laptop Makes Your Laptop Scream When Stolen Read More , Adeona and Firefox plugin Firefound, just to name a few. Prey differs from these in a few ways, but the most important one to keep in mind is that Prey is cross platform — meaning it works on Linux, Mac and Windows.

Setting Up

Setting up Prey is simple. Just head over to the Prey download page and download the version of Prey your operating system needs. Install the program and you’ll be told how to launch the configuration tool on your platform. Fire up that tool and you’ll see something like this:

recover stolen laptop

As you can see, you need to register. No problem; just go to Prey’s signup page [Broken URL Removed] and sign up. You’ll need to do the standard register, email, confirm process but don’t worry: it’s worth it.


Once you are signed up you’ll get your API key; you’ll need this to configure Prey. You’ll also need a device key, which you can get easily by adding your computer to your Prey account online. Just click “Add a new device” and you’ll see some straight-forward steps. Complete this and you’ll have a device key. Go back to the Prey configuration tool and add this:

stolen laptop


Now that you’re set up, you’re ready to track your laptop. By default Prey does nothing, but when your laptop goes missing you can log onto Prey’s website and activate your protection. Do this and you’ll receive an email as soon as the thief turns on your computer, linking you to a report so you can recover your stolen laptop.

recover stolen laptop


Be sure to configure Prey online in order to get the most of it. For example, you can enable your webcam to get a picture of your thief, or turn on your computer’s GPS chip to give you a precise location. Explore your options. Find a full list of features over at

Conclusion: Useless? Not Entirely

You might be wondering if this product is of any use if the laptop is reformatted, or stripped down and sold for parts. Well, not really. But many thieves aren’t all that smart; you’d be surprised how many will start up a stolen laptop without thinking about the possibility of such tracking software.

It’s also possible that a thief will fire up your laptop in order to try to find private information about you. How ironic would it be, then, if you get private information about them in the process! So it won’t save your laptop under all circumstances, but it might help in some. The main thing to remember is that this tool doesn’t cost you a dime, so why not install it just for the peace of mind? You might well be glad you did someday.

What do you think? Is a tool like this cool, or a mere gimmick? Would you install this, or can you not image a thief dumb enough to boot up a stolen laptop?


And what I’m most interested in is this: have any of you successfully used this program to recover a stolen laptop? Please share your story if you have; we’re all ears!

Related topics: Geotagging, GPS.

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  1. Yip
    July 18, 2010 at 4:52 am

    Startup programs tend to run before you log in as a user, as long as you only have one account. It also depends on the priority status the program sets, but I would think Prey sets its own priority above standard Windows login startup components.

    I could be wrong.

  2. Ozerrows
    July 17, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    Will this program work if your computer requires a password at startup?

  3. M8R-a8y75k
    July 17, 2010 at 5:06 am

    I'd actually like to let you guys know it does help a ton. I had this program on my laptop that was stolen a couple of months ago. After tracking it for a little while, no one got on it for months. Just a couple of weeks ago, someone got on it again and the cops ended up retrieving it with my help. This is truly awesome and truly worth your time installing it.

  4. Lcthulou
    July 17, 2010 at 12:08 am

    With adaughter going to school, We're installing this tonight. I can imagine that the software ( Educational Versions of CS5, Office and others) is too valuable to just clean the computer. In this case, any thief on campus would have to know this and would have to open the computer to steal and wipe the personal data. That makes these features ideal for a Student's laptop.

  5. Nat Jay
    July 16, 2010 at 10:14 am

    This is a very important application to have. While most people focus on recovering stolen mobile phones, it's good to see an app that helps you recover your stolen laptop. At least for me, the laptop is more important than the cell phone as it contains my business data.

  6. ojphoto
    July 16, 2010 at 3:21 am

    Wow! I was just thinking about adding a program like this to my computer for an upcoming international trip. I assume this would work in any part of the world? (I don't have a GPS chip installed.) Thanks!

    • jhpot
      July 16, 2010 at 3:27 am

      It'll work anywhere there's WiFi!