Should I file a claim for my missing laptop?

Hundreds of thousands of laptop computers are lost or stolen each year in the United States, and only about 5 percent of them are recovered. Airports are a particularly common "Twilight Zone" for laptops. A 2008 study by the Ponemon Institute found that more than 12,200 laptops go missing every week at U.S. airports.

If your laptop vanishes, you can file a claim with your homeowner's or renter's insurance company. Your laptop falls under the personal property segment of your policy. But before you contact your insurer, you need to do some simple math.

“Just because you can file a claim for a laptop doesn’t mean you should always do so,” says Dan Weedin, an insurance and risk management consultant in Seattle.

Here's where the math comes in.

insurance laptop

Weedin says it’s not worth filing a claim for less than 50 percent of the laptop's value. So if your deductible is $500, don’t file a claim for a laptop valued at less than $1,000. Why? Because all claims become part of your claims history, and that history helps determine your insurance rates. Therefore, a laptop claim could wind up costing you more in the long run than the computer is worth.

Mark D’Agostino, owner and president of R.F. D’Agostino Insurance Agency Co. in Brockton, Mass., says you may not want to file a claim at all, regardless of the laptop's value. “Any claim could count against you, and the result could be anything from losing a 'claim free' discount to getting a surcharge or non-renewal on your policy," D'Agostino says.

Here are six ways you can keep your laptop from becoming a statistic.

1. Check out gadget insurance.

Gadget insurance for your laptop is separate from your homeowner's or renter's policy. Companies that specialize in this kind of coverage include Safeware and Worth Ave Group. Premiums vary based on where you live, the age of your laptop, the deductible and other factors.

If your employer-owned laptop goes missing, the company likely can file a claim through its business property policy, according to Weedin.

2. Shoulder the burden.

Of course, the best insurance policy for the loss or theft of a laptop is old-fashioned prevention. For many of us, that means protecting our laptops at the airport.

“The best place for your laptop – and any luggage – is in front of you,” says Matthew Podowitz, an IT management consultant in Atlanta.

So if you need a free hand, don’t put your laptop down. Tote it in a bag you can carry over your head and shoulder so you won’t need to put it down and risk forgetting it or having it stolen.

3. Be smart at security.

It can be hard to hang onto your laptop as you're emptying your pockets and removing your shoes at the airport security checkpoint. So it’s no surprise that somewhere between the security line and your destination, your laptop can disappear.

Carol Margolis, an Orlando, Fla., businesswoman who travels 48 to 50 weeks each year with two laptops, uses this trick to make sure she doesn't leave her computers on the conveyor belt at security check-in: Always put your shoes in the bin behind your laptop (or, in her case, laptops).

“I know I’ll never forget my shoes," Margolis says.

She also relies on this little ditty to remember everything:

Must collect my purse, laptop, liquids and shoes,

Or I’ll let out a curse and be feeling the blues

4. Don't trust strangers.

insurance laptops

Beth Blair, a retired a flight attendant, says she routinely saw passengers entrusting their laptops and other belongings to complete strangers on airplanes or at airports so they could grab a cup of coffee or visit the restroom. That's a formula for disaster. Quite often, Blair would spot one of these kind strangers falling asleep, getting distracted or dashing off to catch a flight.

Aside from your unattended laptop being a target for an unscrupulous passerby, Blair says it could be confiscated by airport security.

Even though it may be a hassle, keep your laptop with you at all times so that you can keep an eye on it -- not a complete stranger or a thief.

5. Keep quiet.

Robert Siciliano, an ID theft prevention specialist, says laptop owners often become the victims of distraction crimes in the airport. He says a would-be thief might strike up a conversation on your right side, while his accomplice lifts your laptop, which is to your left.

“That’s why you should never take your eyes off your laptop. Even for a second,” Siciliano says.

So if someone quizzes you about your laptop when you're in the airport or on a plane, you should politely change the subject and keep a close eye on your machine, Siciliano says.

Also, keep in mind that bragging isn’t always done with your mouth. Just seeing your laptop’s screen resolution or manufacturer can be all the enticement that a computer crook needs.

Josh Smith, editor of Notebook.com, suggests masking your laptop. “You can use a skin to camouflage the machine’s manufacturer,” he says.

When you’re working in an airport café or a gate area, try tucking yourself into a corner whenever possible, Siciliano says, or choose a spot that’s not in the path of a lot of foot traffic.

6. Label your laptop.

In the event your laptop is lost and found, having your name and email address or cellphone number on it will help a Good Samaritan get it back into your hands. Putting this information on a sticker attached to your laptop or taping a business card to your laptop (or perhaps the laptop bag) will increase the odds of your wayward computer making it back to you.

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