Operation Gringo Revenge: Tracking My Stolen Laptop While Traveling

Tracking Stolen Laptop with Prey
Tracking Down My Stolen Laptop in Panama

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

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

Before my computer was stolen during my year-long backpacking trip around Central America, I’d installed a special tracking program called Prey Project.

I 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 out of my travel backpack while drinking with friends at a bar in Panama (stupid, I know) — I quickly activated Prey from an internet cafe, hoping I could catch the thieves like Sean did.

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.

But that all changed last night.

READ MORE: Travel Scams You Need To Know About

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.

READ MORE: How To Find Super Cheap Flights Online

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: Transgender “Escorts”!

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 conversations.

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 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: It turns out Chonga is actually a man!!! And also a transgender call-girl. A reader shared this fact with me in the comments below — even providing proof!
NOT SAFE FOR WORK!Click Here for Proof
Important Information
Software: Prey Project
Cost: Free! (upgrade for $5 if your computer is stolen)
Tutorial: Learn How To Set Up Prey Project
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.
Protect Your Trip Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance.

Have you ever had anything stolen? Do you use tracking software on your computer? Drop me a message in the comments below!


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

THANKS FOR READING

Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 9 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel more with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
Matthew Karsten
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Leave a Comment

321 thoughts on “Operation Gringo Revenge: Tracking My Stolen Laptop While Traveling”

  1. This is THE best travel story I’ve ever read, period. I’m SO glad you got this back, and happy to know about a new service I wasn’t aware even existed.

  2. ok, i’m just reading this… i’m dying!!!! LMAO! It’s awful you had your shit stolen though. It’s great that you got it back!
    I had some things stolen in panama earlier this year also. … my CLOTHES and slippers from the beach. There was nothing of value except the clothes itself… but.. GRRR!!! i couldn’t believe it!

  3. Matt, this is seriously the BEST! I have been travelling for 30 years now, and I continue to visit off the beaten track places. I was mugged in Buenos Aires in 1999 and chased my assailants … and got everything back by the way … but the way you tracked and stalked these dudes is da bomb! You win! Anyway, after years of travelling and 10 years of blogging, my partner and I are about to do this stuff professionally. Hope you will follow us … new web site coming soon! Go Matt, go!!!! veryitchyfeet.com

  4. I just discovered your travel blog. LOVE it! This story is absolutely CRAZY! I’m glad that you were able to recover your laptop. I am definitely going to look into the Prey software. Love that you were able to collect so much information to use for leverage. The transgender hooker thing (saw the link), OMG! World famous now, whether they wanted it, or not (I’m thinking NOT). LOL

  5. 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.

  6. hahahhahahahahaha so busted! When I looked back at the photos of Chonga it was really quite easy to see she was a he… or use to be.

  7. 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!

  8. 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…

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!!)

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

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

  19. 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 :)

  20. 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.

  21. 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. :)

  22. 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!

  23. 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.

  24. 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!

  25. 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!

  26. 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?

  27. 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

  28. 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.

  29. 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…

    • 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?

      • Hi Matthew,

        Sympathetic to your story, and realize this happened a few years back, but in 2016 you should not be confused which gender name to use with a trans person. It looks like the post was written in 2011, so that I’m willing to cut you some slack (but just the slightest amount of slack).

    • 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?

  30. 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!

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

  32. 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.

    • 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…

      • 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.