Thieves ransack Register office
But why did they ignore the Compaq server?
Opinion This article was first published in April 1999 I'm not sure whether the thieves who broke into my office were chancers or technophiles. Ignoring the Compaq server, the top-of-the-range Samsung monitors and the Hewlett Packard Vectras, my friendly neighbourhood burglars made straight for a couple of Fujitsu system units. They also had away with a Lexmark Optra, a Sony TV set and video, a Nokia mobile phone and a small amount of cash. Maybe Fujitsu machines are easier to sell through the classifieds than HP Vectras. Maybe expensive Compaq servers are too easy to trace - or just too heavy to get down the stairs. It is also entirely possible that the thieves were stealing to order. According to a Home Office study, Pulling the Plug on Computer Theft, crooks are stealing PCs pre-selected by fences, who research the market for hot equipment and meet dealers to assess demand prior to the crime. More shocking is that up to one-third of the phone numbers in the computer sections of free ad newspapers belong to dealers who have already been convicted of peddling stolen kit. If the US experience is anything to go by, the internet auction houses will deliver an even more efficient thieves' bazaar. Computer theft accounts for 18 per cent of non-domestic burglaries in the UK, costing businesses on average more than £2,600 per crime, according to the Home Office. It costs the country as much as credit card fraud. Professional teams travel all over the country, using anti-surveillance techniques to throw police off the scent, and - surprise, surprise - commit repeat thefts. Out of a study sample taken of 1,048 items of recovered stolen property, there were 477 computers, 372 other items of hardware, 153 printers, 31 word processors, 14 pieces of software and one computer game. Six companies in Salford, Manchester, were investigated for the study, which also pinpointed the robbers' favourite brands of computer. OK, so it's not a big sample, and I'm surprised that there any companies daft enough to operate out of that town, which is possibly the robbers' capital of the universe. But anyway, Compaq came out top, accounting for about 10 per cent of stolen kit. IBM came a close second with about nine per cent, followed by HP with seven per cent. And orders for stolen Dells couldn't have been too hot in the north west - the direct seller lagged behind at less than five per cent. Isn't it about time the computer sector got its act together on theft? By doing little or nothing, large companies are effectively colluding in crime. A centralised database of stolen PCs would be a start, with a unique identifier alerting it when the PC was switched on for the first time by its proud new owner. Intel's controversial serial numbers as proposed for the Pentium III could come in handy and the chip giant should resist calls to allow OEMs to switch off the facility. ®