Last month one of our clients, a prominent Seattle photographer, lost her laptop while flying home from an assignment. Her dilemma reminded us of a few software packages we’ve heard of that attempt to help reunite stolen computers with their rightful owner.

How theft recovery software works.

When a stolen computer is connected to the Internet (using dial-up, WiFi, Ethernet, etc), these utilities attempt to send network information back to a central server. This information can be used to track down which ISP is used for Internet access, and helps law enforcement track down the stolen devices.

Orbicule’s Undercover (Mac-only)

In addition to network information, Undercover will send screenshots of your computer’s screen. Plus, as a bonus trick, if your Mac has a built-in iSight, Undercover will attempt to send pictures of the thief as well. [Cost: $29.99 for 1-Mac, $44 for 5-Macs]

LoJack For Laptops (Mac or Windows)

LoJack For Laptops is available for purchase in many major retail stores including Fry’s, CompUSA, Office Depot, etc. [Cost: $49.99]

PhoneHome (Mac or Windows)

Unlike our other examples, PhoneHome does not rely on a central server. Instead it secretly sends an email message to your email address every time the computer gets an Internet connection. Normally you can delete these emails, but if your laptop is ever stolen, you can file a theft report and use the included location information to help track down your computer. [Cost: $29.95 w/ free demo]

Note: We at Creativetechs have not actually used any of these products before — so we can’t advise which (if any) might do a better job. If anyone has experience with products of this type we invite you to contribute your knowledge by adding comments.