Man Recovers Stolen MacBook Thousands of Miles Away, Here’s How To Recover Yours


Using free, open-source software to identify the perp and the help of some Twitter friends, one man was able to reclaim his stolen MacBook fromthousands of miles away.
Using free, open-source software to identify the perp and the help of some Twitter friends, one man was able to reclaim his stolen MacBook fromthousands of miles away.

Sean Power, a Canadian tech consultant and author, recently had his MacBook stolen along with some other valuables in his bag, including his birth certificate and cell phone. Using a free piece of software, Sean was able to track down his belongings and organize their safe return with the help of a bunch of friends on Twitter… and we can tell you how to do the same if it happens to you.

Sean got his MacBook stolen in Brooklyn, New York, but was able to organize its recovery from thousands of miles away in Canada thanks to a free piece of software called Prey.

With the application installed on his machine prior to its disappearance, Sean was able to track its whereabouts and receive reports that featured photographs of the person using it, as well as screenshots of their activity.

When he received his first report, Sean posted about it on Twitter:

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Sean revealed to his followers that, as well as his 17-inch MacBook Pro, his bag included his birth certificate, short-form birth certificate, health card, cell phone and some cash. As he continued to keep his followers updated – posting the photos of the person using his machine, their name, and eventually their location – Sean’s friends began to help out.

One lady went to visit the cocktail bar in NYC where Sean’s MacBook appeared to be. Others did some research and found that the gentleman using the laptop actually co-owned the bar. Though, it’s worth noting out at this point that its user may not have been the thief, and that the machine could have been purchased innocently.


With the user’s name and location, Sean decided to call the cops and ask for help. Because he hadn’t previously filed a report regarding the theft of his MacBook, the Police refused to help; forcing Sean and his friends to take matters into their own hands.

Sean continued to keep his followers updated on the reports he was receiving from Prey and one of his friends, Nick Reese, decided to play cop and stepped in to help.

Nick went to the bar and spent a lot of time chatting to its owner, Paolo, who in the end freely gave up Sean’s MacBook.

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This story is a fantastic example of how modern technology can make such a difference in a stuation many of us wouldn’t even consider. While some might argue that the Police should have dealt with the issue when Sean called them, with a huge social network and a great piece of software, Sean and his friends were able to recover the machine themselves; and that’s not something we could have done 10 years ago.

We often hear stories at Cult of Mac about people who use Apple’s Find My iPhone service to recover their stolen iOS devices, but it’s not often we hear the same story about laptops.

To read the full story, along with all of the tweets and photos Sean posted during the recovery, check out Brandon Ballenger’s post over on Storify.

But before that, go and download Prey – it’s completely free and it may be incredibly useful in the future. This might just be the software that gets you your cherished MacBook back.

  • iMunas

     I guess if I use login to get to my MAc, then in case it is stolen one needs to reinstall OS X and therefore Prey and all its super features would be lost….
    I think Apple could invent something that reside on Mac’s bios and would check iCloud or whatever server for a “Lost Mac” signal to take an action (trace, take pictures of a user, screenshots, location of available WiFi, even if there are possibilities that new “user” is accessing some known services like webmail, facebook, twitter etc… to get email address and his/her name if possible or even an email addresses ones illegal user tries to correspond to).

  • José Berumen Dávila

     that’s sooooo right but if u have the guest account turned on, they can use the laptop without the admin account!!!! that could help!!!!! soooo turn ur guest account on!!!!

  • Shahin

    You can set up a bios level password if you wish. That will disable the thief from reformatting your machine as the password is required IMMEDIATELY upon powering up your machine. Apple calls this a Firmware Password. You can find it on your OS X Installation disc under Utilities. Read all instructions, etc. before you do this. You could end up locking yourself out of the machine!

  • iMunas

    Yes, I can. However, it would not help me getting it back in case my Mac is lost….

  • iMunas

    Yep, this is one of possibilities, even if setting this account I would prepare myself to lose my Mac.Nevertheless, it is always better to get ready for the future instead of be scared of it.

  • Shahin

     Huh? yes, of course not. I was referring to your comment that if you reformat or reinstall OS X Prey would be gone. If Firmware Password is in place one can not reformat or reinstall OS X, etc.

  • Mike

    Purchased innocently?  Yeah right.  This guy bought stolen property and he knew it.  What a scumbag.  

  • Gurrrrrr

     Yeah but if they reboot and get stuck at the BIOS password Prey is also not running. So that doesn’t make a difference. It just keeps your machine from being useable, but it won’t get it back to you either.

  • yasza

    Why the Police refused to help?

  • Jason Knowlton

    It keeps the machine being wiped put but will allow them to still run Iwould bet most people would just simply turn it on first. Opening up a chance to track it.

  • Mohtek

    I think that one could almost force a user to use the “path of least resistance” by enabling the guest account and locking the BIOS password down. There are still ways around this: boot a live Linux CD on startup etc. 

    But most people (and thieves especially) are lazy and/or not technically savvy.