Find My Mac

Your precious Apple laptop has been stolen, and you are bereft and angry. But all may not be lost. If you have Find My Mac enabled on your MacBook you can track it, lock it, and even send an aural message to the oxygen waster who lifted your laptop. Here's how to trace a stolen MacBook. (See also: what to do if your Mac is stolen, and how to find it if it is.)

How to enable Find My Mac on your MacBook

First we'll tell you what to do before your MacBook is stolen (we're not saying it's going to be stolen, by the way, we have no inside knowledge).

You may have already enabled Find My Mac if you set up a free iCloud account to use with your Mac (if you are using iCloud it may even be enabled by deault). Here's how to check.

Head to System Preferences and open up the iCloud pane. If you are already logged in to iCloud, simply ensure you've selected the Find My Mac checkbox.

Alternatively from this screen you can now either log in to an existing iCloud account of create a new one and then log in. Either way it is free. Once you've turned on Find My Mac you're good to go. Now we'll show you what to do if your MacBook is stolen or missing presumed stolen.

How to use Find My Mac to trace your MacBook

Okay. You feel sick to the pit of your stomach because you know, you just know, that your MacBook has been stolen. Take a deep breath. Here's what to do:

First up, call the police. They're the experts.

But you can track your Mac via iCloud.com or using the Find My iPhone app on your iPad or iPhone. Despite the name Find My iPhone can be used to trace any Apple device that uses iCloud and has been set up as explained above.

You need to log in to Find My iPhone or iCloud, either by launching the app on iPhone or iPad, or by signing in to iCloud via the internet at iCloud.com. Either  way, you can now click the Find My iPhone button.

You'll now see a list of all the findable iPhones, iPads and Macs associated with your account, hopefully including your missing MacBook. Just below each device will be the location it was last seen. If you see green dot next to a device name it means that Find My iPhone located it. A grey dot means your How to trace a stolen MacBook is offline or could not be found.

If your MacBook has been found by Find My Mac you will be able to view it on the map, switching between Map, Satellite, and Hybrid views. Unlike an iPhone or iPad you can't see previous locations however - it's just a snapshot of where is your device right now. That's not ideal, but it's better than nothing.

How to use Find My Mac to get your laptop back

Here's what you can do from the map view using the icons at the bottom of the page: you can remotely lock your MacBook ('Lost mode'), force your MacBook to play a sound or even erase its entire contents. The latter may be critical if your MacBook contains critical data.  Every time you do one of these things you'll receive an email giving details.

If you opt to remotely lock your MacBook (or any of the other devices) it will shut down and set a four-digit passcode of your choosing. It won't then reboot without the correct passcode.

Playing a sound is useful if you have just lost your MacBook and want to locate a thief as he or she makes an exit, or even if you have lost it in the house somewhere. Choose this option and your MacBook will emit a loud high-pitched alert when next it connects to the web.

The final option is Erase Mac. This feature lets you securely erase all data and settings from your Mac. It also sets a four-digit passcode that lets you regain access to your Mac if you ever recover it. (See also: How to use Find my iPhone in iOS 7.)

What to do if Find My Mac can't see your laptop

All of the actions outlined above can still be undertaken even if Find My Mac can't access your laptop. They'll just happen when the MacBook is next online. If you wish only to receive an email notification when your Mac does come online again, select the 'Notify me when found checkbox'.

Good luck! (See also: what to do if your Mac is stolen, and how to find it if it is.)