3 easy ways to prevent theft on campus

We show you how to protect electronics and other valuables at college

Published: August 01, 2015 08:00 AM

Back in the day—that is, in the 1970s—college students didn't have a lot of valuable stuff in their dorm rooms. Sure, there was a bevy of stereo gear ideal for blasting the latest Grateful Dead bootleg cassette, but a would-be thief wasn't going to easily slip out of a dorm schlepping a pair of giant speakers.

Fast-forward to 2015, and a dorm room is a veritable treasure trove of expensive gear. Two roommates might have more than $6,000 worth of electronics—laptop or tabletsmartphonegaming system—and other items, such as a musical instrument or a fancy coffeemaker, in their small space.

And apparently a lot of that stuff goes missing.

Theft of personal property is the most common crime on college campuses, according to U.S. Department of Education data. "A university is considered a target-rich environment," said Jon Barnwell, the police superintendent at Tulane University, in New Orleans. "Students become complacent and leave their iPhone on a table in the cafeteria or leave their room door open. It takes only eight seconds for a thief to enter an unsecured area and walk off with something."

To prevent theft on campus, follow the advice we got from several campus-security experts:

Step 1: Conceal it

When a valuable item is out of sight, you remove the chances for impulse theft. Concealing such items as phones, passports, headphones, wallets, and jewelry is easy and cheap. Concealment can be as simple as storing a tablet in a drawer or closet or using a decoy product, such as this fake dress with hidden compartments for storing valuables or a book safe to add to your bookshelf.

Word to the wise: Some valuables are better left at home, including expensive or irreplaceable jewelry.

Step 2: Lock it up

A further step to prevent theft on campus is to lock up valuable personal property. An anchor lock system, which attaches a laptop to a stationary object, gives a student the freedom to step out of her dorm room to join a hallway political debate or to leave a study carrel in the library for a bathroom break without having to lug the laptop.

Another deterrent is a portable mini-vault for storing small items in the dorm room. For more security, consider a safe that can be anchored to the floor (if the school allows it) or attached with a cable to a stationary object. University security experts recommend securing a bicycle with a sturdy U-lock, not a cable lock, some of which might be easily cut.

Word to the wise: Add this to the sage advice you give your kid when he or she heads back to school: Even when you just go down the hall to the bathroom or leave the room to follow the aroma of fresh popcorn, lock your door.

Step 3: Register it

Many colleges offer free property-registration programs that are designed to deter or prevent theft on campus. These types of programs not only create a centralized database of who owns what but also provide stickers and security plates that adhere to the registered items and leave a permanent tattoo if removed—signaling to a potential buyer that the item for sale is stolen property.

For example, Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine provides each student with an anti-theft security plate to attach to laptops. Students at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor are urged to register their electronics and bicycles via a secure online system, which then generates a sticker for the item. 

Of course, deterrents are not a foolproof way to prevent theft on campus. So don't forget to check whether your homeowners insurance covers property away from home. If not, consider buying dorm insurance.

—Susan Feinstein

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