Operation Gringo Revenge: Tracking My Stolen Laptop In Panama

Tracking Stolen Laptop with Prey

Panama City, Panama

Three months ago my Macbook Pro laptop computer was stolen by hookers in Panama. Join me as I attempt to recover it from over 2000 miles away.

Before my computer was stolen, I’d installed a special tracking program called Prey Project. I first learned about Prey after following Sean Power’s amazing laptop recovery story on Twitter — downloading the free tracking software that same day.

When my own laptop was taken while traveling through Panama in October 2011, I quickly activated Prey from an internet cafe, hoping I could catch the thieves. I also filed a police report [click here to see it] with Panamanian authorities.

Now I would just wait for the software to start working its magic.

But it never did. After over 3 months of no action, I assumed the thieves had disabled or replaced my computer’s hard drive before turning it on. With no tracking information, my computer would be lost forever.

That all changed last night.

Suspect A

Suspect A: ‘Handlebar’

Surprise! You’re on Candid Camera

On Friday night Prey suddenly notified me by email that I had a new tracking report. You can imagine my surprise! I’d assumed that recovery was a lost cause at this point, now 3 months after the theft. At the moment I’m back in the United States.

I logged into the site. The report contained photos from my Macbook Pro’s integrated webcam, screenshots showing what the suspects were doing on my computer, and WiFi location information displayed on a Google Map.

Jackpot!

These reports came streaming in every 10 minutes. After upgrading my account to Pro for $5, I’m now able to get reports every 2 minutes, or on demand with the click of a button.

I suddenly felt like a kid in a candy store!

Spying on the people using my stolen computer is soooooo much fun…

Suspect B

Suspect B: ‘Chonga’

We’re All Watching

I’m actively tracking the incoming reports on a regular basis. Saving photos and data that I’ll be able to use to recover my laptop. It’s incredibly entertaining to watch what these people are doing without their knowledge.

There’s a lot of information coming in. The software only allows me to save 100 reports though, so I’m deleting the ones that don’t contain useful information. Building up a case against them should I decide to go to the police.

I’ll be updating this post with new information as I receive it.

This is going to be exciting. I hope you’ll follow along with me on the hunt.

Suspect C

Suspect C: ‘Adidas’

What Are They Doing?

Chonga has been most active on my computer so far. She’s logged into Facebook for hours at a time – chatting with friends, bragging about her new “Apple Mac” computer, viewing ridiculous photos, and repeatedly picking her nose.

Through the screenshots I’ve learned her real name, names of her family members & friends, the name of the cafe where she works, and her birthday. I also know the street where she’s living in Panama City. But not an exact address yet.

I’ve censored out all personal information for now.

I believe it’s very important that I secretly record as much evidence as I can before they discover they’re being tracked. I may change my mind about this in the future though, and share all their details with you. I’m still not 100% sure what my recovery plan will be.

I might need your help.

Suspect B

Chonga Picks Her Nose

Suspect B

Chonga Mines for Gold

Suspect B

Chonga Hunts for the Green Monster

Criminal Masterminds??

Now it’s quite possible that these people have purchased the stolen computer from someone else. I don’t recognize Chonga as one of the 3 women involved with the theft, but I’m also not sure I’d be able to remember their faces from that night. It was dark, we were trying to ignore them, and I’d had a few drinks.

But either way, they are now in possession of stolen property. In most countries that in itself is illegal.

If they simply hand over my computer without incident, I have no problem keeping the police out of it and minimizing their humiliation. I just want my property back and be done with it. But if they decide to be difficult, well, all bets are off…

I’ll hit them with everything my twisted mind can come up with.

Suspect B

Chonga’s Facebook Account…

Suspect B

More Crazy Shit (scary photos from an ER)

UPDATE: Prey Capabilities

So after digging into the program a bit more, I’ve learned about some fun things I can do with it. One option is to remotely trigger an audio alarm that sounds like a police siren. Could be fun if unleashed at the right moment…

Another option is to send them a custom message through my computer. An alert window will pop up over whatever they’re doing and display a message of my choice.

But the best option yet: I can deliver a custom message via audio. Apple’s Text-to-Speech program will relay any message I want using a robotic sounding voice.

The possibilities are endless!

Suspect A

UPDATE: Shopping For A Tranny!

Handlebar has been on the computer all day. He spent hours on Skype talking with someone who seemed like a possible girlfriend. While I couldn’t hear what was said (Prey needs to work on live video feeds!), they also used Skype’s chat feature so I could read some of the conversation.

While talking with this girl, he’s also browsing through photos of girls in lingerie on Facebook. Because he was logged in, I now have his real name.

But that’s not the best part…

Eventually I catch him shopping for local hookers escorts online! And not just any call-girl…

Upon closer inspection of the profile, I see that she (he?) is advertising herself as a transgender prostitute!!!

A short translated excerpt from the profile:

“…to taste this true delicacy of tranny sex.. you will not regret it from Colombia to Panama.”

There’s a phone number on the profile and everything.

I couldn’t make this shit up!

Suspect D

Suspect D: ‘Rico’

Suspect E

Suspect E: ‘Dark Eyes’

UPDATE: New Suspects

Wow. There are a ton of different people using my stolen computer. I’ve discovered 2 new people, so this makes 5 total now. But after spying on Rico & Dark Eyes for a while, I’ve decided they are probably not involved.

They are from Chile, and it seems they just arrived in Panama the other day. Handlebar is also from Chile. So these two might be friends or family crashing at his place while on vacation.

I caught them uploading touristy looking photos on iPhoto. I also know they are traveling to Cuba next week.

Facebook sure gives away a lot of personal information!!!

Suspect A

The Money Shot!

UPDATE: Secret Internet Celebrity!

So it’s only been 3 days since I first posted this story, but Handlebar has just learned that we’ve all been watching him. A friend of his quickly recognized him after discovering the story on Facebook.

It sounds like he’s desperate to give the computer back quickly to avoid further humiliation. Smart choice on his part. I was just getting started.

Thank you everyone for helping to spread the word via Social Media!

I’ve been contacted by email to get everything worked out.

Prey Laptop Recovery

Operation Gringo Revenge is a Success!

UPDATE: Mission Accomplished!

I’m ecstatic to announce that Operation Gringo Revenge is a smashing success! After scheduling an evening rendezvous at a well-known Parisian cafe in Panama City, my secret agents (code-names “J-Dog” and “V-Man”) met with our suspect to collect the stolen goods last night.

They’ve moved the stolen Macbook Pro to a safe-house within the city. It’s now guarded 24 hours a day by a professional team of beautiful female assassins from Colombia & Brazil.

I plan to compensate my international team (and former Couchsurfing.org hosts) for their heroic actions that day with sushi & bottles of cheap rum.

The Full Story

So it seems Handlebar purchased the stolen computer off the street from a woman named Maria del Carmen for $750. Maria del Carmen happens to be the name of the user account that’s been active on the computer. Why he never changed the username, I don’t know. I also don’t know why Prey Project never caught Maria on the computer over the past 3 months.

Maybe his story is true, maybe it’s not. I really don’t care. If the story is true, I’ll let him take it up with Maria del Carmen.

I gave him 2 options:

A: Hand over the computer.
B: Let the police deal with it while I post personal details online.

He chose option ‘A’.

As a courtesy, I agreed to censor the photos of his face and those of his acquaintances.

Thousands of people have seen him shop for transgender hookers online.

Because this computer was stolen 3 months ago, I’ve already had it replaced. Now that my friends have recovered it, I’ll probably sell it and use the money to help fund some charity projects.

Big thank you to everyone who helped share this story!

UPDATE: Holy shit! It turns out Chonga is actually a man!!! And also a transgender hooker. Thank you karma gods. A reader shared this fact with me in the comments below — even providing proof! NOT SAFE FOR WORK!Click Here for Proof

More Information

Software: Prey Project
Cost: Free! (upgrade for $5 if your computer is stolen)
Useful Notes: Make sure to include a password-free guest account on your computer. This acts as a “honey-pot”, luring criminals into using the computer immediately. Learn How To Set Up Prey Project »

READ NEXT: 30 Best Travel Tips After 3 Years Traveling

Have you ever had anything expensive stolen?


This is a true story. Prey Project and I have no financial relationship. Their FREE software saved my ass. So understandably I’m excited about promoting them.

THANKS FOR READING

Hi, I'm Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for over 4 years. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel more with crazy stories, photography, and useful tips from my travel adventures. Join thousands who receive exclusive email updates and click the green button below...

Comments & Questions

302 Comments

  1. Kailey | The Blonde Travelista
    June 7, 2015

    Oh my gosh!! This is freaking hilarious. Shitty that it happened to you but reading this story was so entertaining. Glad they handed the computer back to you.

    Reply
  2. Tara Woodruff
    June 5, 2015

    Holy shit that was fun!!! I will definitely have that software installed when I move South of the border (or anytime I get a laptop!!)

    Reply
  3. Muhammad Aslam Khattak
    May 24, 2015

    Can I install Prey remotely into my lost device?
    Unfortunately I had not installed any anti theft software in my laptop. I know it’s Serial number and it’s mac address. It’s HP Probook 4530 Corp i3. It’s serial number is CNU1452CL7.

    Reply
  4. Noe Garcia
    April 1, 2015

    OMG this is so freaking entertaining, I mean sad you got your laptop stolen and YAY you got it recovered but, holy cow the process is so amusing (I should be working but I can’t stop reading).
    I wonder if there is something like that for iPhone (got mine stolen awhile back) oh well new phone, but installing this app on my laptop right now.

    Reply
  5. Carey
    March 27, 2015

    I’ve used prey in the past and theft away (now avast) on my phone. One thing to note though. The software is only useful if you haven’t setup a password or encryption.

    If the thieves can’t access the device and get online, you can’t get reports and track them down. Likewise, if they format it, or flash it.

    Congrats though. Top job on getting it back.

    Reply
  6. Stigen
    March 18, 2015

    hahahahaha , It`s almost worth getting your laptop stolen when you get to witness all that human depravity Live !
    I`ve had prey installed on my laptop for a few year,but the one time it went missing in albania last year it did`nt work, because I had forgotten to update it…doohhh….
    If the thieves are smart then they will format the computer before using it/selling it, then that would delete Prey as well, but there are other similar programs that are designed to survive a formatting.

    Reply
  7. Luke Armstrong
    March 6, 2015

    Having had a laptop stolen in Guatemala, (And not recovered) I find this absolutely wonderful. Using the support staff from carbonite, I was able to track my IP address, but the Guatemalan police lost the thread from there since I was never really able to make them understand what an IP address was.

    Reply
  8. Liya
    March 5, 2015

    I’m reading this in 2015 but what the heck, this is such an adventure!

    Reply
  9. Jessica
    January 4, 2015

    Haha! Ah.. what a crazy story but makes for an interesting read. Glad you were able to track down your computer after all.

    Reply
  10. Amy
    December 29, 2014

    Bwhahaha! You couldn’t dream up a better story. I’m thrilled you got your laptop back…may need to sanitize. :/ And Prey Project…champions! Still laughing :)

    Reply
  11. Tikva
    December 28, 2014

    I was looking for some Panama related travel stories but instead came across this posts. What a story!. OMG it sounds almost to good to be true.

    Reply
  12. Ian Robinson
    November 28, 2014

    Fantastic story. I was laughing out loud reading it. I’m downloading Prey Project as we speak. I’ve never had my laptop stolen… but if it happens, I’ll me more excited than anything else. :)

    Reply
  13. Karen
    November 24, 2014

    Wow…. what an amazing read! Think I will get that on my PC when I go travelling…. well done you in thinking about publishing it and well done you in getting in back!

    Reply
  14. Christopher
    November 22, 2014

    Excellent advertisement for Prey Project.

    Reply
  15. Andrew and Emily @alongdustyroads
    November 19, 2014

    This is bloody hilarious! Amazed and delighted you managed to get it back, and the transgender hooker parts are just the icing on the cake.

    Reply
  16. Liane
    November 13, 2014

    What a story! One has the feeling to be part of your investigations. In the beginning I didn’t expect that the story will have a good end. But you were successful! Congratulations! Hope you will never have to use Prey for a second time. Safe travels!

    Reply
  17. Jamie
    November 11, 2014

    This was probably the biggest twist of events I could expect in a story.
    Bravo for getting your laptop back! I’m going to install this software right now!

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      November 11, 2014

      You and me both Jamie. Unbelievably ridiculous (and entertaining). Frankly the outcome was almost worth the thing getting stolen in the first place.

      Reply
      • Trish McNeill
        November 24, 2014

        Exactly what I was thinking while reading this! That was a very welcomed break in my day.

        Reply
  18. Kate
    November 4, 2014

    This is one of the most incredible things to come out of the internet. Well done on your fantastic digging skills!

    Reply
  19. Jo
    October 14, 2014

    I had to read through to the end to make sure it was for real! Question though – if Prey can see who is working on your computer when it’s stolen, can they also see you working and have access to what you’re doing?

    Reply
  20. Carmen
    October 11, 2014

    I’m speechless. This is so insanely brilliant.

    Reply
  21. the paper boat sailor @ Paper Boats
    October 10, 2014

    This could make for quite an awesome crime novel!

    Reply
  22. Courtney
    October 8, 2014

    That.was.hilarious! Glad you got your computer back. :)

    Reply
  23. Michael
    October 8, 2014

    Your laptop has a travel story all of its own. It sounds like it was having more fun than the rest of us.

    Reply
  24. Naví
    October 6, 2014

    love ur tenacity…. and ur sense of humour is hilarous.

    Reply
  25. Panama Sarah
    October 4, 2014

    Matthew.. loved your blog and this story is hilarious! I am downloading this Prey program now.. traveling in Indonesia., you never know. I live and do business in Panama and am also a host with couch surfing. I wanted to invite you to stay on your next visit. I live near the beach, near the city. What a great read, I’m still laughing out loud! Cheers, Sarah

    Reply
  26. Stacey @ Onetravelsfar
    October 4, 2014

    Best story I’ve read in ages! I had prey on my iphone but couldn’t use it when it was stolen as I couldn’t get online. Also had find my iphone and just watched it drive around Bali (I left it in a taxi) for a few days and sent messages to it. I love how Prey takes photos and screenshots, that is amazing.

    Reply
  27. Dave
    September 26, 2014

    Funny story Matthew. He must be a ladyboy, term what they used in Thailand.

    Reply
  28. Dea
    September 9, 2014

    I laughed hard and this prey is doing such a good job in spying thieves!

    Reply
  29. Bethanny Alpino
    September 3, 2014

    Hey Matthew,

    Very interesting and entertaining story, but did you have to make so many transaphobic slurs? Using phrases like ‘trannie’ and shaming the prep for his interest in transgendered sex workers (which probably is more likely the case than transexual, meaning they have gone through with a sex change operation) is very hurtful and dehumanizing to members of the LBGTQ community and those that sympathize with them. And how did you know that the women that stole your laptop were hookers? We you by chance patronizing a brothel? Maybe you should include that in your article or else you are making a very misogynistic assumption. I can’t believe someone with such a reach could be so insensitive and unaware…

    Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      September 4, 2014

      No offense meant to the LBGTQ community, but the “transgender sexworker” was specifically using that term to advertise herself. It is impossible for me to know what is or isn’t offensive to everyone, especially when that changes depending on who you ask. I have friends in that community who have read & shared this post without mentioning it was offensive. But thanks for letting me know how you feel.

      As for the hookers who stole my computer, all you need to do is visit Panama City to find them inside every bar & nightclub after dark, including the nice Cuban bar I was visiting across from the Presidential Palace. They don’t hide who they are because prostitution is legal in Panama. It’s as obvious as who is working as a bartender.

      Now which one of us is making false, offensive, and ignorant assumptions?

      Reply
    • RG
      October 19, 2014

      Don’t get your panties (or briefs) in a bunch. Call a spade a spade. And by trying to shame him immediately, do you really think he’s going to edit anything in his article?

      Reply
  30. Cyra
    August 1, 2014

    Haha, I laughed reading this, but on a serious note, I just installed Prey Project too. I have heard to many success stories lately to not install it!

    Reply
  31. Christopher Sharpe
    July 31, 2014

    I LOVE this story, getting your own back on people that are low enough to steal your property. Definitely getting this for my laptop.

    Reply
  32. Mark
    June 27, 2014

    HAHAHAHA great story Matthew, and the ultimate detail from Fuentes: He/She is a tranny with a great ass tattoo…

    Reply
  33. Cole Harry
    June 11, 2014

    Cool that you have no issue violating the privacy of people most certainly poorer than you who were probably scammed themselves into buying a stolen laptop. Even cooler that you seem to think it’s shameful to be attracted to transgender individuals. You’re a gem.

    Reply
    • Jim Harrelson
      July 10, 2014

      No, you’re a gem!

      Reply
    • Matthew Karsten
      August 19, 2014

      How am I violating their privacy? The photos are censored and no real names were used. I’m just sharing what happened to me. If they don’t like it, maybe they should’ve re-thought buying an obviously stolen computer off the street. Judging by the company Handlebar keeps, I highly doubt his story is true anyway…

      Reply
      • Joel
        September 14, 2014

        Yah you tell ’em! Eff you Cole Harry! What difference does it make if they are poorer than him? And he didn’t say it was shameful, just that it was funny. You probably think making fun of nose picking is prejudice somehow.

        Reply
    • RG
      October 19, 2014

      It’s not shameful. Just weird.

      Reply

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