Top this: Stolen laptop found two years and 600km later
The computer had been on quite a journey before the tracking software hidden inside woke up and sounded the alarm
When some fast-fingered remote jammers relieved Mfundo Nzukuma of his laptop 2017, he had no idea that the stolen computer would be found nearly two years later in a factory nearly 600km from where it went missing. While his trusty Hewlett Packard spent month after month in the ether, some stealthy tracking software lay dormant.
But in January – a full 568 days after it was taken – the software sent pulsing alerts to a tracking firm.
With the location of the connection pinpointed, armed recovery operatives swooped on surprised staff at clothing retailer Solo Trading, who were none the wiser that one of their company computers was stolen.
The laptop’s journey began in the backseat Nzukuma’s car in the township of Ginsberg near King Williams Town, the Eastern Cape government official having taken work home with him.
“It had been a long day for me and I decided to take my laptop home to finish a report. I slipped it into my bag and put it in the car as a made my way to the bank near Ginsberg. I did my business and went home, resolving that I didn’t have the energy to finish my work after all,” he told the Sunday Times.
Unbeknown to him, his laptop had been purloined by remote jammers outside the bank who later discarded his bag at the roadside in Breidbach, several kilometres away.
“The next day someone phoned me to say they had found my laptop bag and got my details from documents inside. At that point I didn’t even know it was stolen yet,” Nzukuma added.
Now it remains for police to work back in time, retracing the marathon journey of the computer and nab those who moved it.
Solo Trading’s Mahmood Vawda – who bought the laptop on Gumtree in 2017 – provided an insight into the computer’s months of mystery.
“I found the computer online and I thought it was a good deal,” the businessman said.
Contacting the seller, Vawda asked for the serial number and verified the computer as a legitimate HP product.
“I gave the guy R6,000 and we have been using it ever since. Everything was fine until I had the tracking guys and the metro police knocking on my door. I just don’t know why it took so long,” he said.
Vawda said he went over his records and found a number for the man who sold him down the river.
“He just swore and now won’t take my calls, and I am the one left out of pocket,” he added.
Now that the laptop is in the hands of the police, detectives in Durban and King William’s Town are combining their efforts to find the culprits all the way along the criminal value chain.
Tumi Matshego, of tracking firm Legratron SA, said tracking software was a vital tool in reuniting people with their stolen possessions.
“Tracking software in its most basic form is a hidden application installed in the asset. It will use the internet or wifi connection to find itself,” he said.
He said that if the laptop was off or without a connection the trackers would have been none the wiser, hence the delay in finding it.
“The software would be running in the background and started sending out its location. From there the company would have been able to triangulate its location. All of this would have happened without the person who was using it knowing,” he said.
Etienne de Toit, chief commercial officer of Momentum Short-term Insurance, said retrieving stolen electronic goods was rare, and that tracking valuables was becoming increasingly prevalent.
“As consumers move towards a more connected lifestyle, there may be an opportunity for clients to reduce their risk, and keep their valuables safe, by making use of such devices or software,” he said.