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Don't leave your personal electronic devices unattended while in public places. /

It wasn't that long ago that the most expensive thing a college student had in his or her dorm room was a stereo or microwave oven.

Those items were often big and bulky, making them hard to steal.

Nowadays many students leave for college equipped with a cell phone, iPod, iPad, laptop computer and other electronic gadgets. Not only are those items valuable, many of them are small enough to slip into a pocket or backpack in seconds.

"We do see more electronics on campus than ever before," said Steve Janowiak, vice president for student development at Briar Cliff University.

As a result, Briar Cliff and other colleges spend more time informing students about taking proper security measures to protect their small but valuable electronic items. The easiest thing students can do is reduce the chances for theft.

"Most crimes on campus are opportunistic," said Jim Cornelia, director of security at Morningside College.

A thief sees a gadget unattended and quickly snatches it.

"In most cases what happens is (the victims) leave them unguarded for a minute or two," University of South Dakota Police Department Lt. Dallas Schnack said.

The easy advice that Janowiak, Cornelia and Schnack give to students is keep valuable items locked up and out of sight.

"Specifically that they keep things in their rooms or on their person," Janowiak said.

Cornelia said you'd be surprised at the number of students who leave their rooms unlocked while they leave to eat, take a shower or go to class.

"They think no one's going to go in there," he said.

Even inside the room it might not be safe from prying eyes, so Cornelia recommended that laptops and other gadgets be stored out of site in a drawer or closet when not in use.

"You don't leave anything out that you value," he said.

Schnack said the majority of theft reports he sees are those in which students left their items, usually laptops, unattended in a public area such as the library or dining hall. The student leaves the laptop for a minute or two to go to the bathroom, and that's all the time a thief needs to come along and slip it into a backpack.

Laptops seem to be the most common target, Schnack said, and thieves appear to be taking them for their own personal use rather than pawning them for cash.

Laptops also can be great sources of personal information that can be utilized for identity theft, Schnack said. He encourages students not to keep personal information such as Social Security and student identification numbers or bank account information on their laptops.

Janowiak said Briar Cliff recommends to students and parents that they insure their electronic gadgets against theft and loss.

If the student lives on campus, those items should be covered under the parents' homeowners policy under personal property. But if the student lives off campus, he or she should get renter's insurance to cover them.

For the most part, Schnack said, students are pretty careful with their electronics. Most seem to take security seriously, at least from a theft-prevention standpoint. But all college officials said they see lost-and-found offices filled with cell phones and iPods that slip out of pockets and backpacks or are just plain left behind.

"You can't imagine the amount of (lost) cell phones in our office," Cornelia said, laughing.

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