Here's an interesting statistic: One in every 14 laptop computers is stolen within a year of purchase. Here's another: The estimated cost of such loss to business is $8 billion a year.

But what if your laptop could phone home after being stolen? Is that worth $49.95 to you or your company?

Enter zTrace (www.ztrace.com), a tracing and recovery system. Outfitted with zTrace software, a laptop quietly sends an SOS message and geographic location to zTrace headquarters in Waltham, Mass., each time a user logs onto the Internet. The zTrace computer then checks its ID against a list of computers that have been reported stolen.

“If it's not stolen, we ignore it,” says zTrace founder and president Alexander Kesler. “If it is marked stolen, we send a message back activating our patent-pending tracing functionality. The result of our trace is the physical address of that computer. We get it down to 123 Main St., Apt. 2. We have a retired police detective who gets assigned the case. He follows up with local law enforcement agencies.”

What's most impressive is that no one but the original owner knows the zTrace software is installed. It is an invisible software agent with no visible icons, directory folders, or files.

“Companies invest a lot of money in safeguarding computers within their firewalls,” Kesler says. “But what hasn't been looked at is business travel. A large number of thieves … go to airports and expos, pick up your laptop, and leave.” On the other side of the coin, Kesler says that 80 percent of laptop theft is internal. “They are stolen by disgruntled employees.”

Last November, zTrace monitoring debuted at Comdex. It costs $49.95 per year per laptop and is only available for Windows-based PCs. In the works is zControl, which will allow owners of a stolen laptop to order it to delete certain files or an entire hard drive, download files, or shut down the first time it goes online after being reported stolen.