12 Ways to Keep Your Valuables Safe at College
Don't let thieves swipe your laptop, smartphone or gaming system when you're not looking
If you're like many college kids, when you get to campus and unpack yourself into your dorm room, you'll be unloading thousands of dollars in personal property, especially easy-to-steal electronics. Tuition costs enough already; don't make your parents spring for a new laptop because yours was swiped (or end up washing dishes to pay for a new one).
Laptops, smartphones, gaming systems, stereos and cameras equipment are routinely snatched from dorms, backpacks, even school libraries. So don't be blasé about your belongings, even if keeping an eye on them doesn't seem cool.
“Computers, smartphones and textbooks are prime targets for theft,” says Corey Byers, spokeswoman for Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. “Students are encouraged to not leave valuables out and unattended.”
Burglary and personal property theft, in fact, are the most common crimes on college campuses, according to data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Here's what you can do to play it smart.
1. Register your stuff before you leave home. Take pictures of your property and register the serial numbers on your electronics (and your bicycle, another favorite target of campus thieves). Keep these records at home. Many schools also have free property registration programs maintained by student affairs and campus police, Byers says, so take advantage of them if you’ve forgotten to register something. Without a serial number on file, you’ll have a hard time proving a stolen item was yours — if it’s recovered.
2. Leave the priciest bling home. In short, leave the rubies and diamonds at home. (If you bring them, make sure they're insured.)
3. Keep an close eye on your smartphone. Don’t tempt fate by leaving it — or your laptop or gaming system — in plain sight on your bed or your desk or in your car. Especially when you're walking alone at night, be on your guard against Apple-picking — the snatch-and-grab theft of an iPhone — says Byers. “There is a market for those, and people will try to sell them to a pawnshop or anyone who will buy,” Byers says. Install an app such as Find My iPhone to track your phone if it does get stolen.
4. Always lock your dorm room (duh). If you leave your dorm room unlocked and your stuff gets stolen, it's on you. (Photo: Targus)
5. Consider a cable lock and/or lock box. If you have a gaming system or laptop, you can tether it to the leg of a heavy desk with a cable lock, aka cable anchor, available at electronics stores. They aren't perfect — someone can cut through them — but they should deter a casual thief looking for an easy opportunity. Another option is buying a steel fire-safe lock box for your dorm. They're available in sizes that will fit in a closet or under your desk. Get one that's heavy enough so it's not easily carried by someone in a hurry. If you're allowed to bolt the plate to the floor, that's your safest bet. Otherwise, secure the box with a cable lock. Even if someone cuts the cable, they'll be easily spotted walking down the hall with the box. (Photo: First Alert Store)
6. Lock your bike whenever you park, even if it’s for only a few minutes: Bike thefts are the number one crime on many campuses. A four-year college student has a 53 percent chance of having a bike stolen, according to the National Bike Registry. Use a steel U-lock, not the cable type that can be snipped with bolt cutters, to secure your bike to a rack or pole; use a steel cable to lock both wheels.
Related: 5 Gadgets to Make Biking Safer
7. Lock your work computer at your desk if you have a work-study job. Some thieves pose as campus tech repair employees and ask to borrow it "for routine maintenance." At the University of California at Berkeley, one particularly brazen thief would simply walk into a research institute using a stolen ID and take laptops on unattended desks, telling curious students that the campus tech center was doing an update. (He was foiled when one skeptical student asked to see his ID, and he raced off, leaving behind a backpack with several stolen computers.)
8. Don’t tempt fate by leaving valuables in plain sight. “Students become complacent and leave their iPhone on a table in the cafeteria or leave their room door open,” Jon Barnwell, the police superintendent at Tulane University, in New Orleans, told Consumer Reports.org. If you're using your laptop at a coffee shop, take it with you when you go to the bathroom.
9. Don't carry your ID, credit cards and money in your backpack. Carry it in a wallet in a pocket or a small purse around your neck. A professional thief will have little trouble relieving you of those items by reaching into your backpack in a crowded bus or unzipping it while it's hanging on the back of your chair in a cafe.
10. Write your name in your textbooks (especially those big, expensive ones).
11. Consider personal property insurance that can protect you from theft, loss, fire or other disaster. Look into renters’ insurance if you live off-campus or a student insurance policy with full coverage.
12. Walk in groups on busy routes, especially at night. If someone looks suspicious, Byers says, trust your instincts and cross over to the opposite side of the street.