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.

NOTE: To read how my computer was actually stolen, check out: Robbed In Panama City!

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.


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: My 30 Best Travel Tips

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.


  1. There’s something great about great community policing and karma, right? I mean, how often in our lives do we get to actually take down the perp? Nicely done. Totally going to look into this software. Thx.

  2. This in one of the craziest, most impressive laptop retrieval stories out there! I never knew you could spy on people, I’m blown away by the awesomeness of this post! Hahahaha.

    Stoked you got your laptop back, don’t mess with the Expert Vagabond!

  3. This sounds like the plot of a children’s-format-but-for-adults illustrated book. Like, Go The F*ck to Sleep, but with transgendered prostitutes.
    I’d buy it, anyway…

  4. Be careful who you hold to ransom with personal info like that – it’s safe to assume a person who is prepared to steal your laptop could be prepared to stab you with a knife too.

  5. MATE
    Straight up one of the funniest things that I have ever read!
    I am actually at work and when procrastinating, I read your blog (which I came across like 2 days ago).

    I am planning a 9 month travel/study around the world starting June so this blog is gonna come in handy seeing as im doing it budget and am planning on getting nice and local! Also gonna have a Mac with me. Good stuff bud!!!

    I love what you’re doing with this passive income by the way; really smart work and props to you for making it work.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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 :)

  12. 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. :)

  13. 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!

  14. 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!

  15. 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!

  16. 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?

  17. 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

  18. 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.

  19. 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…

    1. 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?

    2. 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?

  20. 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!

  21. 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.

    1. 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…

      1. 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.

  22. Wow, your laptop certainly had quite an adventure. Thank you for sharing the software you used. It’s good to have a safety net like that especially when you use your laptop for business. And I’m very glad you were able to recover your laptop.

  23. HI M, FANTASTIC recovery, just downloaded the program myself and did a BackBlaze backup in anticipation of Tianguis in MX, next week. Just one question, just exactly what were you doing in the near vicinity of those “Ladies of the Night” which allowed for enough of a minor distraction to lose your coveted MAC? Inquiring minds are, well simply inquiring.

  24. I just came across your site today, and this is absolutely hilarious!! I could imagine their humiliation, but it looks like being patient does pay off. thanks for making me laugh today, definitely going to bookmark your site!

  25. Good post mate :-) I travel extensively for quite 20 years now (thanks to a good pension ^^), and this story made me laugh a lot !
    Some years ago, I used to have a laptop for my travels, but for quite some time now, I don’t bother anymore with, as it is a real magnet for thieves…
    Instead I have an external hard disk that I carry along when I travel. It is very small, whilst capacity is a terabyte, and as now you have Internet places everywhere, I don’t have any issues to connect or work when needs arise ^^
    Now I can understand that with the kind of software and the platform you use, you probably can’t have that option :-)
    I hope your next travels will be as entertaining, rich in new knowledge and fun :-)
    (My english might be a bit poor, but I am french speaking…)

  26. This is the best story of revenge I’ve ever read. I’ve also been wondering if there are any programs to track stolen or lost laptops. I’ll be purchasing that as soon as I hit the road!

  27. This post reminded me of a similar experience when our backpack was stolen with our netbook inside while doing laundry in Florence, Italy. If someone is doing something stupid infront of you look for the accomplish behind them. We didn”t know why a gypsy was backing us into the corner of the laundry and waving his wallet until we turned around to get the backpack to put our laundry into. GONE!!! Luckily we had another computer and learned our lesson the hard way. Thanks for the reminder of another adventure on the road.

  28. Brilliant post, and very helpful; immediately installed Prey on all of the devices I’m taking with me later this week. Thanks for sharing!

  29. Thats a brilliant story. I’ll be more careful about what I steal in future!! Handlebars really got his comeuppance in the end. Pity you couldnt get back at Chonga as well

  30. Its amazing how fast they handed back the computer after they were revealed. Good detective work there albeit by remote.

  31. Crazy!
    I read something similar a while ago, but I think that person had his phone stolen.
    If only I could remember.

    Does make you hope no-one ever hacks into your computer and webcam.
    I really should pick my nose less

  32. That’s the best blog i read so far Matthew, awesome!! thanks for sharing. I copied the link to my facebook as i am traveling since the end of 2012 and met loads of other travelers who defintly read it. Cheers Bobby

  33. Wow, this is sad, i am in I.T (System Admin) and first thing i do with new laptops for anyone i know, format, reinstall, and these are legit purchased computers!!!!. Really goes to show that thieves are stupid! Why prison’s are over populated!

  34. Cool story!

    I never knew the existence of softwares able to take photos from the mini webcam.

    Transvestite are a real issue, they are theft addicts. In Asia, especially Thailand, there are theft stories almost everyday on local newspapers about ladyboys stealing from tourists.

    Here mine safety tips:

    – Don’t speak and get stopped by transvestite.

    – Don’t let them to be close to you

    – Don’t take them in your room, LOL

    Matthew, I am happy you got it sorted out. Well done.


    1. Really is hard to believe isn’t it. But yes, all true. That “gal” is actually a dude. Which makes this even more funny. And the fact that he’s also a prostitute makes me think they were totally lying about not knowing it was stolen. Maybe “Handlebar” is just a pimp, and the women who stole it work for him. Who knows.

      1. Oh, okay…I recall reading that and was wondering if that was who you were referencing. Great story…well done sir! :-)

  35. It’s amazing story you shared with us! My laptop was stolen at the conference at University of Barcelona last week. The room was even under video surveillance and the thief has been seen (a well dressed latin-american guy). Unfortunately I don’t have any tracking software like Prey Project installed. The funniest (or saddest) thing is that I would give a present owner the reward just to return my 35 GB of photos using some cloud storage…

  36. This is hands down THE BEST blog post I’ve ever read!! I literally laughed out loud in a boarding queue, now everybody on the plane will think I’m a lunatic.
    I am installing that as soon as I can, it somehow makes losing the Mac a joy! Dude you are a true legend, I love your blog even more now.

  37. This was ridiculously entertaining…AND I just downloaded Prey since I’m traveling through Colombia right now…you never know! Thanks :)

  38. WOW – i’m downloading this on my laptop right now. Thank you for sharing your experience in such detail! Incredible you were able to get your laptop back from a continent away. Congrats!

  39. If only I had known about this software a year back, when my gaming computer got stolen.

    I do miss it, but did install the software on the computer I am currently using. Let’s hope I don’t get to use it.

    Also, my bithday is in a few days, so wish me luck when I solicit at my rich granddad to replace the US$800 piece of equipment.

    Thanks for a good post!

  40. Wow.. that’s a nice one! Following your suggestion, I just downloaded Prey, but when I was trying it out and put it as “Missing”, the Mac’s camera LED lit up when it was taking a picture for the reports. Any suggestion on how to turn the light off?

    1. I tested it out as well and honestly didn’t notice it (probably because I got distracted by Facebook while waiting for the 10 minutes). I think if
      someone did see it they would think it was random since it only happens
      for a second. Even if they figured out what was going on a couple
      pictures before it was disabled would be better than nothing. Maybe you
      can try emailing the development team at Prey to see if they can work on

  41. This is probably hands down, the best stolen property story I have ever read! Congrats on being such a good investigator and getting your macbook. On top of that, awesome job at updating everyone as the story progress!!! =D

  42. okay I just realized that the “girl” with the tattoo isn’t really a girl :-D

    I can just quote a friend of mine from Bangkok: “Sebastian, keep away from the most beautiful girls…they are men.”

    Sometimes life is unfair.

  43. This is a really crazy story! It is amazing how modern technology enabled you to track your stolen laptop.

    Weird story and what is even weirder than the story is that big tattoo that the senorita has on her ass cheeks ;-)

  44. the best part was the ending!
    …no i dont mean the recovery of the laptop, i mean the discovery that Chonga was a transvestite hooker. yikes!

  45. Hey I really enjoyed your storytelling!

    installed prey on my mobliedev’s right away. but not on my chromebook, firstly on a chromebook it can’t be installed, secondly chromebooks are cheaply replaced (without data loss)

    Otherwise perfect :)

  46. Hey, very interesting operation and I’m glad there is a happy ending that you can recover your Mac. Really don’t know the Prey Project program before and will install it in my Macbook pro as well.

  47. Hey Man, very nice and hilarious this history !!!! Nice to know this program exists !!!!
    Good blog, i’m already addict !!!

    I’m thinking do a hitchhiking trip from de south to the North of my country ( The Big Brazil) !! Now i am got safe a little money then i’ll hit the road !!

    You are a great inspiration for me !
    Take care and good winds for you !

  48. hahaha epic skills! Stoked you managed to get your laptop back though and you’re right – you couldn’t have even made up the crazy stuff you found out through this!haha!

    I’ve just downloaded and installed Prey onto my macbook too – cheers for the tip!

  49. oh that’s amazing… this is the sophisticated way of finding thefts. Thanks for the post. I really enjoyed reading this stuff.

  50. Holy crap–this is an amazing story. Love it!! I’ve never heard of Prey, but I sure want it now. I am SO happy for you…not only did you get to have some fun humiliating these jerks (I would have done the same), you’re getting your computer back. Yes!!!

  51. hahah, wow! one of the best travel stories/posts i’ve read to date. I love the title, love the story and especially love the ending. Good for you and thanks for the tips. I’ve got to download that program asap in case my mac ever gets stolen.

        1. Since you’ve caught them,recovered your notebook and had the forgiving thought of “not being the judge”, why leave their pics still on the net? Suppose there’s that small chance that they really did buy from a thief? They did hand it over even though its no defence that they bought it(stolen goods)

  52. This is great stuff. Kind of makes we want to become a PI spy who does the hard work sitting down using Prey to discover the fate of peoples stolen laptops worldwide and dispatching a hand picked team of ninja recovery experts when the times calls for it :-D

  53. I had such fun reading this post, literally kept me on the edge of my seat from the suspense and also almost fell off my seat from laughing. Like the others, I’m so happy this has a good ending. There are some bad people out there and there are some really good people out there, kudos to the people who have helped with the “investigation” and retrieval. And god bless Prey.

  54. Amazing story, I can just picture your eyes gleaming with the fire of revenge as you, almost obsessively, tracked the thieves’ every move online, and pieced together your plan, hehe.
    I’m curious…if they had reformatted your hard drive before they used the laptop, would Prey still have worked?

  55. Brilliant post and absolutely hilarious! I’ve just posted this on my Facebook page along with a recommendation to install Prey to all my friends. I just had laptop and phone stolen in Barcelona and sadly I did not have Prey (or any other antitheft software) installed. Of course, I had Find my iPhone but that seems to be pretty much useless! Really happy for you and great travel stories too!!!!!!

  56. Can’t actually believe I have only just come across this story tonight Matthew – didn’t even twig it before in your interview with me where you mentioned the stolen laptop. WHAT A STORY, just love it!!

  57. Hola?? this site is so hilarious! want help in writing a book????? It is very early here……how close are you to Panama? the country???????

  58. how long it took me to discover this gem of a story is beyond me. Regardless, that is AWESOME! OMG, I can’t imagine the expression of those Latino faces! XD

    By the way, does the Prey software work with PCs?

    I just bought a new Lenovo laptop yesterday and would love to install Prey once I hit the road later this year. Please let me know! :)

    Love THIS type of happy endings! ;D

    -Maria Alexandra

    1. I believe it does Maria. Definitely worth having. Especially because it’s free. Just remember to include a password free “guest account” on your computer too, so if it is stolen, they can get online with it.

  59. Good 4 u >B-D
    But I’ve also read on a forum if u havn’t installed prey yet, u can still have your ISP company track down the IP, but seems like a court warrant’s necessary. They also mentioned u could ask your local police to contact cyber crime specialists who most usually hunt after kiddie porn but they can do PC-stolen case, too. I’m not sure the details involved but I assume knowledgeable ppl will grasp what those ppl are suggesting here: http://tech.slashdot.org/story/08/07/04/1247249/best-way-to-get-back-a-stolen-computer

  60. Oh my GOD! I’ve heard of Prey but no advertising can trump this story. I’m downloading it as I write this. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! For including all of this information and telling your story! I’m sure you’ve saved countless laptops! A backpacker with a new (VERY new, otherwise I would include a link) travel blog, I am so anxious about my electronics at all times.

    I couldn’t be happier I’ve found this blog!

  61. Hi Matthew:

    I wish I had seen this sooner. I am a teacher and my laptop was stolen in the Latina University just a couple of days ago. I have back-ups of many things, but I have lost a lot of valuable info. I will use this software in the near future and thank you and congratulate you for your efforts. My husband also lost his mac when we first got here in 2008… so this is valuable info for anyone and everyone. Thanks again.

  62. I wished I had this one installed on my laptop too when it got stolen right inside my own room while I was sleeping in my home country, in the Philippines. too bad, I read it just now, I could have been feasting on them too like you did.

    This is a good lesson to be taught that we need to secure our laptops with this kind of software. It is smarter than the local police and one which do not also bribe us to get out property back.

    Unfortunately for me, I lost my laptop, DSLR camera and 3 mobile phones in just one robbery and inside my own room while I slept.

  63. instead of picking your laptop to steal….she should’ve been taking her time picking all those boogers from her nose before anything.

  64. Hi again and thx for tip for LastPass.
    I downloaded it but then I start think.
    My account name on PreyProject is the same as my E-mailadress.
    Now, if I use LastPass then it´s easy to log in to my account and change my status from “Missing” to “OK”.
    It´s easy for a thief to find out my e_mailaccount. It´sjust to check my outgoing mailboax and there it is.
    Therefore I´ll opened a brand new Gmailaccount and connected that adress to all sites where my Email adress is my accountname. Hope this information will be helpful.
    From a grumpy old man in Sweden!

  65. Matthew,

    This is one of the most unique and hilarious (sorry — I mean that in a good way) posts I have ever had the pleasure of stumbling upon!

    For safer online banking (as Olle mentioned above), check out Neo’s SafeKeys (www.aplin.com.au) or caféKlysm (www.tokezone.net/cafeklysm) — both free software.

    Cheers again for the laughs. So glad you had a happy ending! :-)

  66. This story is amazing but I´m scared to use my laptop fo banktransactions. If its so easy to watch what i`m doing.

  67. A classic! What a wonderful bit of technology right there. I always wondered did those programs really do a good job, well now I can see the huge benefits!

    Anyone know if there is a windows equivalent of such a program?

  68. Got my laptop jacked two months ago, and sadly it was 110% my fault. Left it in my *unlocked* car in a shitty neighborhood at night. Shockingly, it walked away during that time. To my credit, there may have been more than a little alcohol responsible for that massive lapse in judgement, but that doesn’t get my computer back.

    On my new computer, the first thing I did was install Prey and get a Kensington lock. I vow never to let it happen again.

    Kudos for the international rescue of your MacBook!

  69. Great story, glad you got your laptop back. One request, though: **please** consider deleting the ER photo, or warning people, or at least blacking out the worst part. I was eating breakfast as I was scrolling through your post. Gack!

  70. You are the shit dude! I do not think I have laugh so hard in a good while. God bless you man. Please send your email if you can I like to add you to my friends list in facebook and also in CS.

    Keep up the good work!

  71. This post makes me really happy. It’s hilarious and it’s amazing how you actually got your laptop back AND you had quite the show haha. I just installed the software on my laptop. It’s such a great application that everyone should have installed.

  72. WoW! I can imagine you while watching them what they’re doing…very entertaining! But I am glad these people were reprimanded and you get your laptop back :)

  73. This is absolutely hilarious! I’m going to download Prey now, so on the off chance my laptop is stolen… well, at least I can have some worthwhile entertainment!

  74. Man you’re good!!! My laptop got stolen 3 months ago as well and it would be so sweet if I could have tracked it. Good for yOU!!!! The bad guys finally lose one.

  75. Hah, this is the best post I’ve read in a while for pure entertainment value! Awesome! Remind me if I ever get a Macbook Pro (bit out of my budget range atm) to install Prey on it haha!

  76. As a hotel owner in Brazil I’ve heard my fair share of horror stories regarding stolen laptops. I think I may pop a link to Prey on our welcome screen that shows on guests TVs when they arrive.]

    It’s pure genius and I’m almost tempted to start wandering around town in the evenings with my old Dell under my arm ;)

    Thanks for this post seriously. It’s been a hoot Matthew.

  77. Amazing that you were able to install this software, setup the guest account, all “in case” something happened.. then when it did, you were ready.

    If only I had a similar paranoia before my laptop (passport, and phone too) was stolen in Florence.

    I will have to setup something similar on my shiny new replacement laptop.

  78. My computer was grabbed in Brussels in April 2011. I did not know about this program then but I really wish I had. I assumed my password protection would keep anyone from accessing my private stuff but now I’m concerned. I thought they would have to wipe it to gain access. I just put Prey on this computer but I had several chapters of a book I’m writing on my Mac and a lot of stories that were ready for publication. I feel like an idiot for not having those on a flash drive and now I feel like more of an idiot for not knowing about this program. Glad you had a happy ending.

  79. Great job man! I have been following this story in FB and glad to see that you got it back. Also I downloaded Prayproject and it is active now :D

  80. It was an entertaining and enlightening story. It was also the kind of story that allows a world of victims to feel, voyeuristically at least, some sense of sharing in your victory and feeling a bit less helpless and pessimistic about being so powerless against the greedy and criminal individuals in the world who are always on the hunt for easy prey. We spend much less time in our lives trying to protect ourselves from such people, than those people do devising ways to selfishly and lazily take what isn’t theirs and searching for new victims.

    Thank you for so articulately and throughly documenting this event in your life. It was edcuational, a ‘cautionary tale’ and generally just a good read. You have done more to convince laptop owners to follow your example and get the Prey software immediately… as extra insurance against permanant lose of their computer as a result of theft.

    Respectfully Submitted,
    Bill Mills

  81. Matt,

    I have been enjoying this unfolding story on FB all along. There has been compassion for your loss as well as moments of unbridled hilarity as I view the perps various antics, nasal and otherwise. Congratulations although I am saddened to see such an entertaining tale conclude. I hope this story has driven much additional traffic to your already successful blog and I would like to option the film rights. Let’s do lunch.

  82. Has Prey made you a spokesperson yet?haha. Damn, I got a friend who just got his laptop stolen in the safest place in San Pedro. Just curious. How much are you selling the laptop for?

  83. I’m totally buying Prey too! I am too scared of losing/having my Macbook stolen… This story was a lot of fun to read but I can understand your excitement! OMG thieves should all get public exposure so that they would stop stealing to avoid the shame… They deserve it!!! Well done Matthew :)

  84. Awesome, awesome story! So glad you got it back. I totally think Prey should sponsor your website now for all the publicity you have them. I, for one, downloaded it as well.

  85. Amazing story Matt. I saw this on Twitter, I think, and already have a tab open with Prey. I wondered if they could see your info and eventually your website…
    In a way I’m surprised it all went down so easy in the end. I thought they would just get rid of it, but I guess you had enough of their info. Incredible!

  86. Awesome story and even more awesome outcome! How much are you selling the famous laptop for? I might know someone who may know someone else who would be seriously interested in a LEGAL TRANSACTION… :)

  87. Glad the ending worked out great. I will be installing Prey on my next computer before we travel again.

    One question – Did you use your travel insurance to recover the cost of the laptop or fund it on your own? If it is with insurance I know many have the stipulation that if stolen equipment is ever recovered it is their property. Just thought I’d throw that out there for you.

    1. My travel insurance had recently expired before this happened. It wouldn’t have covered much anyway, because the policy had low per-item limits. One of the reasons I was searching for a new provider actually.

      I had help financing the new one from generous readers who purchased photography prints or made donations after the incident.

  88. Just can’t make up something as entertaining as this! I’m so happy it all worked out and you got your computer back.

    I downloaded Prey on my laptop and Android as soon as I found out how incredible it is. Thanks for the heads up!

  89. Awesome story… I’m gonna get this software…. It’s amzing how it works pretty well, and your story is so much fun!!!

  90. Wow it seems Prey has a 100% recovery rate; why aren’t other companies that offer this service jumping on this? :D

    I think this has been one of your best stories ;) you might get a bonus charity sale for the laptop for the story it has made out to be.

    You might consider putting a bird of prey wrap on the macbook as a token for the buyer or something.

  91. This is brilliant, I’ve been following this story since the beginning and I’m amazed how quickly they found out about your posts! Just goes to show eh? I’ll be setting up a guest account on my laptop just in case then…

    Off to download it now, thanks for the heads up!

  92. Hi Matthew,

    I enjoyed reading your post (and actually might come back to your blog), especialy since I have a personal interest in it.

    Unfortunately, about 5 days ago, my Asus laptop machine was stolen whileI was at a public library. I’d left it unattended for about 4-5 minutes, and when I got back it was gone. They had left me with the charger and the mouse :-(

    I am very happy for you, and also filled with hope regarding my case.
    Since I only had one password protected account, I was sure they would simply erase the whole thing (including the Prey sofware copy I had installed)and
    reinstall the operating system. however, I read your situation was similar, and still they managed to work around it. I’m really crossing my fingers that my thieves are also password hackers…

    I was wondering why do you think it took 3 months for them to start operating it?
    Did you get any hints regarding that on the reports? I´m very curious.

    Good luck to the both of us…

    1. My guess is that the thieves didn’t know how to break into it, so it took awhile for them to figure it out.

      In the future I’ll be including a password-free guest account too, so if it’s stolen, they can start using it right away (but my personal info will still be protected in my own account.)

  93. WOW! I can imagine you’re having loads of fun getting these bizarre nose-picking-internet-porn-searching updates and posting them live on the web for all to see. Looking forward to see how this goes!

  94. When my laptops camera is on it is always lit up. I’m wondering if yours does the same thing? If so I would think that they would catch on.

  95. Thank you for a truly unique travel blog entry, although I’m sorry it was at your own personal expense.

    I will never buy a secondhand laptop again.

  96. i know you’re finding this entertaining, as am i, but if it were me these low-lifes would already be in jail. i don’t get why you don’t contact the police.

  97. Question regarding the effectiveness of Prey Project: If I password the only account on my laptop wouldn’t this force any thief to do a reinstall of the OS, and wipe Prey?

    Or are they using a maintenance mode/boot disk to create an additional account, thus preserving the OS install?

    1. I don’t know. In my case, I had a single password-protected account.

      Somehow they bypassed it without wiping the hardrive. They are not logged into my account though, there is a new one. I have no idea how they did it. But Prey is still on there. :D

  98. This incident is epic. If I were on your shoes, I don’t know what to do with these people but I will gather as many pieces of evidence as much as I can so I would have solid proof about the grave criminal act they did. I was really reading the post til the end because I’m so intrigued by the outcome. What did you do next?

    Can’t wait for the next post!

  99. Matt,

    you should call police so they can catch em. I saw this on FB and probably they will too. if u take more time, the will probably split and loose ur laptop.

    better have police on their ass and u get ur pc back, unless u are enjoying the pics on their FB.. LOL..!!

  100. It totally bites that your laptop was stolen. I hope through your Prey program you are able to recover it. In the meantime the post is hilarious! I agree with one of your other readers you should contact a reporter, this would make a GREAT story. They may be able to get your laptop back.

  101. See if you can friend them on Facebook – call them by their real names… tell them you met them at some place you know they’ve been. It’ll drive them crazy trying to remember who you are and how you know so much about them. Then see if you can get them to give you any more info on where they live, how they got the laptop, etc.

    If you can mess with them via Facebook, maybe they won’t suspect that the computer is the source of all the info you have.

    Once they figure that out and ininstall Prey, you’re window into their world will close, and that would be a shame!

  102. Sorry , I can’t help but laugh at these clowns . I hope you get your laptop back and they get what they deserve . And thanx for the tip on the software .

  103. I like the idea from Jeremy – Send messages claiming you are God and she will go to hell for her deceit and lies :) Anyway, you can get their attention by sending a link to this post via Facebook. Keep me updated on the outcome

  104. This is beyond. My laptop was stolen in Costa Rica a few years ago, and having this program possibly could have changed my life! There, I guess it is not illegal to hold stolen goods, because my guy got off, despite wearing sneakers that I proved were mine. I got the sneakers back but could not get a search warrant for house, down the street from mine. And he was let of jail after one day, because he said the sneakers were a present from his sister. Even though they were Nikes, which aren’t sold there, and she’d never left the country. Even though I proved they were mine enough (pics of me zip-lining!) to get them back. I can’t wait to see what happens!!

  105. Hah! This is incredible. Ah the wonders of technology!
    What a story… sorry you lost your laptop,, but hopefully things will work out. You should totally keep messing with them… hah! ;-)

  106. Love this new “trip” Mat’ !!!! ;-)
    Please, keep the story going on as long as you can !!! Love Chonga’s gold mining !!!! Take care

  107. Oh man, automated audio messages would be so much fun to mess with them! Only if you could see their reaction live. Good luck with everything, this is a great/sad/awesome/frustrating story.

  108. Nice! Bet that was a nice surprise after all that time. Tucking my tablet in the pillow case at night in Costa Rica now. No prey sftwre for Android, but looking for something different.

  109. Hilarious!

    I don’t think I’d try to recover my laptop after watching all that it has been done on it with people like that but I sure well damn miss it!

    I did a little bit of research on “parce” since I thought she wanted to say “parece” which in Spanish means “looks like” so the whole sentence from her would be something like “looks like gonorrhea”.

    However, “parce” -or “parcero(a)- is actually a common low-class Colombian term mostly used by hookers, narcs and drug addicts meaning close friend in intimacy.

    The term got very common and now it denotes close friendship, partnership or even family related (I’m guessing the same thing that happens in the US with “bro”).

    I’m sure that you’d be able to do something about it, if you decided to go and track them down merely with the GEO location capabilities as in renting a near by place and just watching people on the street.

    It wouldn’t be that quick but you would certainly bump into these guys.

    However, while this may seem like fun to us here, it is still a delicate issue and could get ugly in less than one second after explaining to any of them, that they have been using stolen property.

    I would first file a detailed report about the software you have been using, pictures, names, zone in which they have been logging to the internet and go there for a few days if really interested in recovering it.

    Or, don’t do anything and just mess with them like it has been suggested.

    I really wouldn’t have an issue having to disinfect the computer completely before using it again but just by looking at them, the mere idea grosses me out! haha

    Good luck with your hunt man!


  110. Let them keep the laptop. I wouldn’t want it back after it had snots all over the keys and who knows what else from looking at lingerie.

    You should post a daily photo of the perps and perhaps someone will recognize them and mail the laptop back!

  111. Oh my God, this is hilarious! It sucks that you had it stolen in the first place but, as they’ll find out, payback’s a bitch! Also, thanks for the sharing this story – I feel like we’ve all just become part of the Scooby Gang =D

  112. Ha, wow, this post is hilarious! I can’t believe you can see everything they are doing, that is wild! Must be addicting watching their every…interesting…move. Hope you get your laptop back mate!

  113. Hello Matthew,
    I wish l’d known about the tracking software in 2011, as my Macbook was stolen from my hotel room in Cusco, Peru and l have no doubt it was the hotel staff as on-one else knew l had a computer. The biggest problem for me was they also stole my external hard-drive back up, which meant that l lost 20,000 photos and 2 years of travel photos.
    The hotel refused to call the police and nor would they give me a line out to phone them directly.
    Eventually l made my way to the Police station at 12 midnight.
    The Tourist Police took my robbery seriously as they could see the broken locks and the suitcase was slashed by the thieves.
    Unfortunately for me, I was made out to be the liar and the Hotels defence to the DDP was that l never owned a computer as l’d never asked them for a wifi password. Wrong!
    I spent an extra 2.5 weeks in Cusco preparing a formal application against my Hotel and Travel Agency ( they also didn’t help) and paid the 36/s to submit the application to Indecopi. Indecopi is the Peruvian’s answer to Consumer Affairs, whereby both the locals and tourists can submit applications against service providers and ask for restitution.
    After 3 months of waiting on the Secretary’s decision as to the outcome of my case, l was provided with what l can only call “a Joke” of an outcome. The Secretary came down on the side of the Hotel and Travel Agency and made a ruling that no robbery had occured since l had not asked for the wifi password ( to prove l had a laptop) !!!!!
    But….. more importantly Apple Mac told me there was no way of tracking my laptop as it wasn’t like the iphone…..
    Thus 20,000 photos down the drain later, and one new MacBook Pro, l now back up my photos on iCloud.
    I sincerely hope you retreive your MacBook but unless you physically go down to Columbia and know a Police Officer there, l doubt that you’ll get it back.
    But l do hope if you can’t get it back in one piece then you can remotely disable it so its rendered useless to anyone!!

    l wish l’d had that software though as l was still in the country and would have demanded the Police retrieve it and take the perpetrators to court.
    Best wishes,

  114. Wow what a story! Chonga and Handlebar look like they were made for each other. I think it’ll be amusing to see how they would react to random messages on text and audio suddenly popping up on the screen. Ha! I hope you get your payback.

  115. This is priceless! What a fantastic piece of software, and although it’s frustrating losing your laptop, the story is hilarious! I can see this going viral. Can’t wait to see how it unfolds…. keeping my fingers crossed for you!

  116. Was having the worst day until I saw this – totally cheered me up. I see they attended the same Slayer concert we did (poster in the background of first pic)…keep the laughs coming =)

  117. There once was a song called “May the bird of paradise fly up your nose.” It looks like Chonga is trying to find it, but looking at the beach picture she may need to look elsewhere. It may be a Vulture, it’s certainly not a Chickadee is it?

  118. Matt – interesting software and a great story.

    Out of curiosity, was your computer password protected? It seems like Prey’s usefulness would be minimized if the computer was protected with a password? I know there are ways to hack through those, so I’m wondering if that was what happened.

  119. Getting robbed sucks, but this retaliation is awesome. I love it!! I would definitely torture them as much as possible (via the “fun” things you mentioned), and hopefully you’ll be able to work out a way to get your computer back.

  120. you should contact Apple…There might be a free replacement computer for you..either through them or the prey program that you are now giving all this free advertising for!

    Seriously..contact some reporters..great story!

  121. as someone who was robbed AND burglarized while abroad, this is the best thing I have ever seen. Ever.
    But can you change those nasty gruesome photos?

    Chonga is an awesome nickname.

  122. The ultimate reality TV show! I would be so mad if someone stole my Macbook. I plan to download that software tonight and really hope you can recover your laptop.

  123. Thank you so much for sharing! Chris downloaded Prey on our Macbook Pro and then had me get on it so he could test it out from a computer in another room. His customized message exclaimed, “This computer is stolen! You are being tracked. Good luck, dick”. Amazing.

    You should probably keep track of all of the photos of “Chonga” with her fingers up her nose. Those are priceless.

  124. I really sorry about your mac, Matthew. and it’s good you’re making all things calm enough to take the best decisions.
    I also loved the idea of prepare some messages, maybe some “spooky” ones. Can you imagine if that woman believes in santery, witchcraft and all those stuff? but make sure just the woman to read them.
    And when you get all the good details, try to get some help from tourism authorities. Maybe they can help you with that. In El Salvador, we get a special police department calles “POLITUR” (Policia de Turismo), decidated to make all visitors feel safer all the time. I don’t know if they have this kind of help in Panama, but Tourism authorities would know better.

  125. This is absolutely hilarious! If you can live without getting your laptop back then I thnk you should just continue blogging about what they get up to, I’ll definitely be a regular reader. If you really want it back then let me know, I’m in Panama City until next Tuesday, I could go round and have a word!!

  126. Actually, if you are a good faith buyer you can buy a stolen item without consequences. (Bona fide purchaser defense). The thing is that you have to prove the “new ownership” by a receipt, an invoice or by giving the seller’s name and contact information! If not, you are going to jail!

    I’m Panamanian, a criminal lawyer, and a traveler. I’m right now in my hometown preparing for my next trip so, if you need any help down here just let me know.

    “Que gonorreaaaaaaa parceeeee” + big butt tattoo… oh pal, she is not even Panamanian. And by the way they stole your laptop at Casco Viejo, I bet she IS involved. It’s a common modus operandi.

  127. Set up a second Facebook account in one of their names, friend their friends, and start revealing hidden secrets regarding sexual orientation, new careers erc

  128. Those shots of Chonga are hilarious! I worked for a company in Guatemala that has offices in Panama — maybe I could convince someone to go on a reconnaissance mission for you if you get an exact address.

    Oh, and I’m downloading prey right now!!

    1. From what I’ve read, the WiFi tracking can be a few blocks off sometimes. Many people use fake names on Facebook too. Chonga has logged into 2 different accounts, with different names and email addresses.

      I want to be absolutely sure with an exact address if I can. No harm in waiting a few days to make sure it’s done right.

      Central American police don’t always do things the same as police in the United States. I have first hand experience with that. I won’t go into details, just in case I do end up asking them to help. Don’t want them mad at me. ;)

  129. If you do not care about getting your laptop back, I would seriously start messing with her. Could you trick it in such a way that she wont know you are the owner of the computer? Like could you have it pop up and act like it is a message from God? I’m assuming she speaks Spanish? Definitely mess with her.

  130. Matt, it’s incredibly useful post. 2 weeks ago i was robbed in chicken bus in Esteli, Nicaragua. Later this day, doing inventarisation of my gear, I discovered that also other gadgets are absent, it total for 900 usd.
    I will share this post on fb for sure and offer my travelmates do the same. I thought that ready for being robbed, but when it happened – emotionally I wasn’t ready at all!
    And I was very blind in my anger and hated all ppl around.
    But what do u think, just imagine, that u’ve lost ur laptop in Panama, and a week later dacided to buy another. and after a few months of using it someone tell u: u have to return it because it was stolen before u bought it. but u bought it for ur money.
    I don’t have the answer, in fact it’s very complicated, what to do with the revenge. maybe this girl bought ur stolen laptop in second hand shop, how could she know is second hand laptop stolen or not?

    1. You are right Roman, that is possible. And I’m keeping it in mind when I decide what to do.

      If I unknowingly bought stolen property, sure it would suck to give it back without compensation. It would suck to get arrested for it too. But that’s the way it works.

      Frankly I’d much rather have embarrassing photos go up online than get arrested. Which is why I’m leaning towards avoiding using the police if possible.

      We’ll see what they do when I confront them. Their actions will determine mine.

  131. Just saw this, and I’m really glad that you have a lead on the case! Make sure that when the time comes that you get the Mac back, that you bring a huge case of Clorox wetwipes!! You never know, you could end up discovering gold on your keyboard… ;)

  132. Mate, that is amazing… going to download this software first thing tomorrow morning!!! Have you called the police to see what they can do now that you aren’t in the country? What about some friends you have there?

    I wish you would have a second external camera to see their face expression once the police sound and the computer voice turn up… haha It would freak me out…

    Good luck with the recovery and I can’t wait to read more… this is epic stuff :)

  133. Holy Cow! Funny. Yet that girl kinda grosses me out now. And then the ER photo came. lol I hope you get it back as entertaining as this might be! Good luck and now I’m interested in the stories to come!!

  134. Haha :) steal your computer back! Follow them and when they are not home replace the computer with embarrassing photos of them and some wisdom words :)

    Good stuff for the positivness.

  135. If I was close by I would totally try to recover my laptop. For sure. Get some help, and bust them.
    Why not? It’s still your laptop!
    Take it back! I will share this!

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