I am writing this post after a long time and some of you may have wondered what happened? Did I finally give up trying to write everyday? Did I suffer from the writer’s block?
It was really none of this, but a real physical reason. I didn’t have my trusted laptop with me for almost four full days and that’s because it got exchanged at the airport security in Mumbai. I got it back a few hours ago. Here is the full story of what happened and the important lessons for all of us from this episode. So fasten your seatbelts and here we go.
On Saturday, we were scheduled to go to Aurangabad by the 6.55 flight. There were five of us. Me, Geeta, Mayura and two visitors from the US. They reached the airport before us, so they had already got their boarding passes and had cleared security. I, Geeta and Mayura collected our boarding passes and reached security.
Early mornings are very busy at the Mumbai airport and big queues had formed at the security. Geeta and Mayura went to the separate queue meant for ladies. I went to the long winding gent’s line. After putting the bags in the x-ray machine, people were forming another line for the physical frisking. This second queue was getting longer as the airline staff was trying to get the late passenger ahead. I put my bag and laptop in the x-ray machine and came and stood in the other queue. It probably took me five minutes to go through the frisking.
Once on other side I quickly spotted my bag and grabbed it. In front of me was a tray with a 15” Black Dell Laptop, vaguely similar to my laptop, but definitely not mine. I waited two more minutes to check if my laptop was still coming through. When I realized that my laptop was not coming, it took me another two minute to attract the attention of the security guards to tell them that my machine was missing. I realized that someone else might have picked my laptop.
By then a senior security officer came ahead. We started announcing that a black colour Dell laptop was exchanged. The unclaimed laptop had no marking on it externally, no name tags, no labels. We started the machine, trying to figure out if we could get some clue about the owner, but no help there. The security officer took me to the video surveillance room and we went through the recording and actually saw my laptop being picked by someone else. The person was wearing a checked shirt and was young.
Now I and the security officer started running around looking for people in checked shirt with laptop bags and asking them if they had a Dell laptop. We forced a couple of them to actually open their bags and show us the machines. In the meanwhile, I heard our names being announced in the background, without realizing that it was the last call for us to board. By the time I realized that, the flight was closed and we couldn’t board anymore. I was completely dejected, I had lost my laptop and our plane had left without taking us. I was still holding onto the unclaimed laptop.
I entered my details in the lost and found register. Then went to the airline counter and booked ourselves for the evening flight and returned home.
On the way, we were trying to figure out what we could do to trace my laptop. It had no external marking to trace it back to me. It’s too valuable. It has all my email correspondence for last eight years, most of my photos and many other things. I don’t have a proper backup of many of those things. I had to get my machine back and only way I could get it was by somehow decoding the owner’s information hidden away in the laptop that I had now.
One of our guests is a veteran in IT. He exactly knew how we could access the information on the laptop’s hard disk. We needed to have a SATA casing that could convert the laptop’s hard disk into a USB hard disk. When the shops opened, we bought such a casing. Then removed the hard disk and put it in. That done, we attached it to Mihir’s laptop and started exploring.
First thing that we did was to look for any document files that could give us any contact information of the owner. Then we scanned thru some of the photographs to look for any locational information. That didn’t yield anything. Then we started looking at the cookie files on the computer and we hit the pay dirt. We found the owner’s email address. We also found the credentials to one of the popular travel site.
Once we had the email, we looked up Facebook using the email and again we found treasure. The photograph on that account matched with the photograph on the laptop. So now we knew we had our man.
We sent an email and a Facebook friend request to the person. We could have logged on to the travel site using the credentials we found and got his telephone number (all travel sites require you to register your telephone number), but we decided to wait. So on Saturday evening, we left for Aurangabad and spent our weekend watching the sights.
Today morning, after three full days of waiting, I logged into the travel portal and got the phone number. I called the person using that number. He hadn’t even opened the laptop and hence hadn’t realized that his laptop was exchanged. When I called, he realized that his laptop was exchanged. Fortunately, he was returning to Mumbai today itself. I met him on the airport and finally got my laptop back.
However, during the whole weekend, I was thinking about the episode and how such a thing could be avoided. And if it does happen, how do we reduce the impact of such a thing. Here are a few suggestions
How to avoid the laptop getting exchanged
- Personalize the exterior of your laptop. Have a design sticker specially made
- Write your contact information prominently on the laptop
- Make the background of your opening screen your contact information
How to reduce the impact of such a loss
- Make sure you have a strategy to safeguard your digital assets
- Make sure you follow safe browsing practices.
- Don’t save your passwords on the machine
- Clean your cookies frequently
Please share your own wisdom. I am writing this in the hope that others can learn from my experience. If you think it would be useful to others, please share this post widely.