Locating & locking a Mac, iPhone or iPad

Lost your Mac, iPhone or iPad? You stand a good chance of finding it if you enabled iCloud's Find My iPhone, iPad or Mac before you lost it. You can show its current location on a map, play a sound, display a message or even wipe its contents remotely. (That’s a last resort – you won’t be able to locate it again once you wipe it, but at least you'll know your privacy is secure.)

  1. Go to iCloud.com or open the Find My iPhone app for iPhone/iPad.
  2. Sign in with the Apple ID used for Find My Mac.
  3. All registered Macs, iPhones & iPads appear in the list.
  4. Choose an option below.

Find My Mac options

  • See the last known location on a map.
  • Play a loud sound to help locate the computer.
  • Lock it with a code and an optional message.
  • Issue an erase (remote wipe) command.

All options work even if the computer/device is not currently turned on. Within 30 seconds, or the next time the device connects to internet, it automatically reboots and performs the selected operation. The user cannot stop this. Even if the device is powered off, it will restart the operation the next time it’s turned on.

Care must be taken when locking or erasing a device. When locked, there is no way to use the device until the unlock code is entered on the device. (For Macs, it’s possible to start the computer from a bootable drive and access files, unless FileVault was also enabled before locking it.) Once locked, you can no longer erase the device until it has been unlocked by the user. You cannot unlock the device remotely.

If the erase command has been issued, the device reboots and erases its own startup drive. Then it offers to download & reinstall the OS. That makes the device usable again but without any data. After erasing, the device is no longer trackable. That’s why it’s a last resort – you renounce all control the moment you click Erase.

While iPhones have GPS built in, providing a precise location, computers don’t have GPS so they can only give an approximate area (within a city block, based on wi-fi). And a cell phone is usually turned on and connected to internet, but computers are normally powered down or sleeping when not in use. We cannot trace a location or control a computer unless it’s online.

What if your Mac or device is stolen?

Find My Device works well when something’s lost. Not as well when it is stolen. If someone intends to steal a device, they can easily thwart our efforts by turning it off or not connecting to internet.

Locating the lost device is a good first step. If you’ve left your phone at a restaurant or friend’s house, you can return to retrieve it. But when it’s stolen, it’s too dangerous to confront criminals. And even if you have the police at your side and you’ve narrowed down the location, law enforcement cannot go pounding on doors without a search warrant. Triggering Find My Device’s loud audible signal can help in some cases but quickly turning off the device can avoid detection.

We can remotely lock a lost device or computer and display instructions for contacting you or police. This prevents ordinary access but a savvy tech could disassemble a computer and connect the drive to another computer to read data. Or we can remotely erase a lost Mac or device so that no data can be recovered in any way. But these are last resorts – when privacy is more important that getting the device back. Remember, once locked or erased, the device is no longer traceable.

Read how to secure your Mac, a complete guide to Find My Mac and see Apple’s instructions.

Learn more about security & troubleshooting.

   ©2023 Creative Tech Support, Inc.   Experts in Apple support since 1994     Need help? Contact us.     Not officially affiliated, related, or licensed by Apple.