If your Mac's been stolen or you've left it somewhere there is some pretty nifty 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 to set up Find My Mac on your MacBook

Find My Mac allows you to find any Apple device that has gone missing, by simply logging into iCloud. It lets you locate a lost Mac from another device using the Find My iPhone web app on icloud.com or the Find My iPhone app on an iOS device. But you have to enable it first.

This is what you need 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). Every MacBook 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.

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:

How to use Find My Mac on a Mac or PC

Log in to Find My iPhone or iCloud by signing in to iCloud at iCloud.com in a web browser. If you are accessing the service via a browser you will need to click on the Find iPhone tab.How to trace a stolen MacBook - iCloud Settings

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.

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.

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 use Find My Mac with an iPhone or iPad

Log into Find My 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.

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).

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).

If your MacBook has been found by Find My Mac you will be able to view it on the map.

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 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

It's possible that you signed up your Mac for Find My Mac but when the worst came to the worst it was switched off and therefore offline.

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 connects to the internet.

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 offline, 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.