Christmastime might seem an inappropriate time to raise the specter of the Grinch, but burglaries and thefts increase around the holidays, and computers are just as easy to carry away as stereos and televisions.
Computer owners, including those who become computer owners for the first time over the holidays, would be wise to take precautions against theft and loss.
A television or stereo is easily replaced, as is the computer itself. But the increasingly popularity of portable computers and the standard use of hard-disk drives capable of storing the equivalent of thousands of pages of paper documents mean that the thief may be taking programs and data files that represent hours, days or even years of work.
Here are some strategies to lessen the risk of theft, minimize a loss and increase the chances of getting back lost equipment.
* The first law of computing is to make at least two current sets of backup disks for your data and to keep one set far away from the computer, preferably away from the home or office. This is protection against fire, flood and computer malfunction as well as against theft. Remember, some thieves take diskettes along with the systems, and your backups are of no use if you lose them as well.
* Keep a list of all the serial numbers of hardware and software, and keep the sales receipts. Do not keep the list of serial numbers in your computer data base, of course.
* Try not to set up the computer next to a window or in another highly visible, easily accessible place. Most burglars are opportunistic, law enforcement officials say, and placing the PC in plain view may present too much of a temptation. Notebook and laptop computers are especially vulnerable because of the small size and light weight, but those are also advantages. They can be stowed in a locked desk drawer.
* There are a variety of PC security kits available that lock or chain the machine to a desk. To take the PC, someone would have to destroy the case or the desk. Kensington Microware Inc. of New York City, (800) 535-4242 or (212) 475-5200, makes such systems for Macintosh computers, ranging from $49.95 to $99.95. The Curtis Manufacturing Co. of Jaffrey, N.H., (800) 548-4900, makes a $19.95 Universal Security Kit that includes a steel cable, a lock and tamper-proof screws.
* When traveling, don't leave a portable PC in plain sight in a locked or unlocked car, and do not leave it unattended in luggage bins or on an adjoining seat in a train or plane.
* Many portables come with carrying cases, and some sport a distinctive logo, such as Apple's rainbow apple. Such logos say, "Hey, folks, this little bag contains an expensive computer." Choose a plain case.
* To aid in the recovery of any lost hardware, engrave or scratch your driver's license number on the computer and peripherals, and other valuables as well.
We suggest engraving the numbers twice on each piece of equipment, once on the outside of the case and again on the inside, where a thief might not look. * Speaking of insurance, special policies are needed in many cases if the computer in the home is used for business. Business computers typically are not covered under a standard homeowner's insurance policy. Check with your agent.