If your Mac's been stolen or you've left it somewhere there is some pretty nifty Apple technology that can help you find it again. The only proviso it that you need to have set it up first.

We explain how to find a stolen Mac.

How 'Find My' can track a lost Mac

Find My Mac (which will soon be known simply as 'Find My' and will incorporate the Find My Friends service when macOS Catalina and iOS 13 launch in September 2019) allows you to find an Apple device that has gone missing.

That device will need to have been registered for the Find My Mac service by you, and it will need to be awake. Once Find My launches in September, the service will also be able to detect sleeping Macs. The service won't detect a Mac that is switched off or if it has a flat battery, although you can set it to alert you as soon as the Mac is powered up again.

Find My (and Find My Mac) shows the location of all your devices on a map - not only Macs, but also iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches. Again, it relies on the devices being switched on and connected to the web - although when Find My launches it will be able to detect devices that aren't connected to the web, even if they are sleeping.

When Find My launches the service will use low-energy Bluetooth signals in order to detect sleeping and offline Macs. Using Find My you'll be able to track the lost Mac because it will be sending out tiny bits of data, or Bluetooth beacons, that other devices can pick up and relay back to you. Apple emphasises that your privacy remains intact because you are the only one able to identify your Mac and all signals are heavily encrypted. 

Currently you can access the Find My Mac service from an iPhone or iPad using Find My iPhone (soon to be known as Find My), and a Mac or PC by visiting the iCloud website and logging on, we'll explain how to use those services below. 

When Find My launches there will be a Mac app with this icon:

Find My

We will also explain how to use Find My on your Mac below.

It's not clear yet whether users will be able to access the service via the web as they can currently - which is useful if you only have a PC available to track your lost device with.

How to set up Find My Mac

Unfortunately Find My Mac is not turned on by default - probably for privacy reasons. Therefore you need to set it up BEFORE your MacBook is stolen (we're not saying it's going to be stolen, by the way, we have no inside knowledge). Every MacBook (or desktop Mac) user should do this. Do it now.

Here's how to find out if Find My Mac is already switched on, or to turn it on if not:

  1. Head to System Preferences. (Click on the Apple logo in the right corner of your screen > System Preferences).
  2. Open up the iCloud pane.
  3. If you aren't already logged into iCloud do so using your usual Apple ID password.
  4. Once you are logged in to iCloud, scroll down to see if the Find My Mac checkbox is ticked.
  5. If Find My Mac isn't already turned on, click in the box and when asked click on Allow to turn it on. 

The service is is free and once you've turned on Find My Mac you're good to go. You'll never need to think about it again... unless someone swipes your Mac, or you leave it in a taxi...

Should that happen, we'll show you what to do if your MacBook is stolen or missing presumed stolen in the next step.

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. They will work with you on this, and can advise you on how to use the powers given to you by Find My Mac. But they will dissuade you from going vigilante. And that is good advice.

Right now there are two ways to find your Mac - either you can log into iCloud on a web browser on a PC or Mac. Or you can use the Find My iPhone app on any iPhone or iPad (if needs be you can borrow a friend's device). We'll explain how to use the service on the different devices below.

When Catalina and iOS 13 arrive there will new a new Mac app called Find My, so the process will change slightly, we look at that below too.

How to Find My Mac on a Mac or PC

So, your Mac's disappeared, if you have another Mac or PC handy - they don't need to belong to you - you can use the iCloud site to locate your Mac.

  1. Visit at iCloud.com in a web browser on a Mac or a PC.
  2. Log in with your Apple account details (the details you use when muying apps and music).
  3. Click on the Find iPhone tab. Yes, we know you are't looking for an iPhone - this is one reason why the app is being renamed Find My... How to trace a stolen MacBook - iCloud Settings
  4. You will see a local map showing all your devices nearby. You can zoom out on the map to check you didn't leave your Mac in the office.
  5. You can quickly see information about all your devices if you click on All Devices above the map. You will then see a drop down box including details about whether the device is online or offline, and when it was last contacted.

  6. Click on a device to see more details and to get access to the options: Play Sound, Lost or Erase.

Play Sound is a useful option if it turns out the Mac is nearby but you just can't find it.

How to trace a stolen MacBook - Email

Lock is a good option if you think you might be able to get your Mac back but don't want to take any chances with the data. 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.

If you think the Mac has been stolen you should choose Erase Mac because even worse than having your Mac stolen is having your identity stolen or private date falling into the wrong hands.

How to Find My Mac with an iPhone

If you aren't able to get onto a Mac or PC, and you have an iPhone, you can use that device.

  1. Log into Find iPhone on your iPad or iPhone (or on a friend's device) using your Apple ID and login. Despite it's name, the app will find any Apple device, not just iPhones. When iOS 13 launches the app will be known as Find My, which makes a lot more sense.
  2. You'll see a list of all the findable iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, and Macs associated with your account, hopefully including your missing MacBook, along with a map showing your current location (and any devices that are nearby). If it turns out your Mac hasn't been stolen you might see that it is nearby (or maybe the thief is still in the area).

  3. Just below each device you'll see whether it's online or offline, and beside it is an indicator of how many miles away it is. If you see green dot next to a device name it means that Find My iPhone located it. A grey dot beside a device means it is offline or could not be found (more on that scenario below).
  4. If your MacBook has been found by Find My Mac you will be able to view it on the map.
  5. If you tap on the device you will see an Actions tab appear at the bottom of the screen with the options to Play Sound, Lock or Erase Mac.

As above, you can use Play Sound if the Mac is lost at home or in the office and retrieve it easily. Lock is the one to use if you think you might get the Mac back. And Erase if you want to keep your data safe more than anything else (hopefully you have a back up of your Mac).

If it is close and your friendly local plod is happy to take you around looking for it you could use the Play Sound option to revel your Mac.

How to use Find My to locate a lost Mac

When Find My arrives on Macs with Catalina you'll be able to use a new Mac app to locate your lost device, rather than log onto a web portal.

  1. Open Find My. You'll see an explaination of how the two apps have merged - Find My iPhone and Find My Friends - this means you can use the app to locate your friends as well as your Apple products. You and your friends can determine whether their location is shared this way. Find My
  2. Click Continue.
  3. There are two tabs, People and Devices. People is where you'll see the loction of anyone you added to Find My Friends (it's always seemed a bit stalker like to us, but could be useful for families). Click on Devices tab to see all your devices. Find My app
  4. You'll see a map - any devices that are near by will appear, expect for any that are switched off or have no battery. This map is slightly more detailed than the previous map was. Find My app
  5. If you scroll down you will see the devices of anyone who is part of your Family Sharing account, which could be useful if your child has lost an iPhone, for example.
  6. If you see the Mac you have lost listed but it's location islisted as No Location, that indicates that it is switched off, or out of battery. However, you can set it to notify you as soon as it is powered up again. Notify when lost Mac found
  7. There are also options to mark the device as lost and erase the device, which you should do even if you think there is a chance you could recover it, to avoid anyone being able to access your data.

How to lock and erase your MacBook using Find My Mac

As we explained above, you can remotely lock your Mac or erase its entire contents. You should do this if you think that your Mac has been stolen as having your Mac stolen is a lot worse if someone also gains access to your social networks, email, and your bank account.

If you choose to Lock your Mac a four-digit passcode of your choosing will be required to turn it back on again.

Erasing you Mac may be required if your MacBook contains critical data. If you choose Erase Mac all data and settings will be securely erased from your Mac. You will need a back up to recover the data.

How to find my Mac if the Mac is offline

While Find My when it arrives in September 2019, will mean it is possible to locate a Mac without it being connected to the web and awake, because all that is required is for Bluetooth to be broadcasting. However, even then, if your Mac is powered off, or out of battery it won't be able to detect it. 

In that case you can choose the option: Notify When Found, in which case you will get an alert if and when it connects to the web.

You still have the options to Lock, Erase and Play a Sound - but those actions won't play out until the Mac is switched on again.

How to find my Mac if I don't have Find My Mac turned on

Before you rule out using Find My Mac, check! It's possible that you do have Find My Mac turned on even if you don't remember doing so. You may have enabled Find My Mac when you set up your Mac.

See if this is the case by logging on to iCloud in a web browser, or downloading and opening the Find My iPhone app on an iPhone or iPad as above.

If your Mac doesn't appear in the list, there are a few more options that we will discuss below.

What to do if you can't find your laptop

So, suppose Find My Mac can't locate your Mac, either because it's switched off, our of battery, or because Find My Mac hasn't been set up. What can you do?

As we said right at the beginning, tell the police. Apart from anything, you will need a police report to be filed in order to be able to claim on your insurance. You do have insurance, right?

You could also attempt to track your Mac's IP Address. This might work if the thief has logged into Gmail on your Mac. Open Gmail and look in the bottom right corner for Details. Click on this to see the last IP address used, this might be their IP address and once you have that you could give it to the police to track (which will involve the police getting the information out of the internet provider of the IP address...)

Other things to do to protect your Mac

Make sure you set up a password so that your Mac can't be unlocked without one. Read about why you should choose a strong password, and how, here.

Install tracking software in addition to Find My Mac. In the past we have looked at LoJack for Laptops, reviewed here.