If you lost your Chromebook, you’re probably panicking wondering where it is, what someone is doing with it, and what they’re seeing.
These kinds of things can be your worst nightmare- especially if you have sensitive personal information stored on the disk.
This guide covers everything you need to know, including ALL possible options to retrieve or lock it.
I think you know that time is of the essence in these kinds of situations, so let’s get right on it.
How to locate a lost Chromebook
Using your phone, Mac, Windows, or Linux computer, launch the browser.
If you’re using someone else’s device, be sure to use a private (incognito) window. And sign out of your account when you’re done.
Or else they’ll be able to manipulate your connected devices remotely, which defeats the purpose of what we’re doing!
Keep in mind that locating a missing Chromebook won’t give you the exact location because they don’t have GPS.
Sign out remotely
If you’re still signed into your Google Account, you can log yourself out. Sadly this is the ONLY option for most recovery protocols.
This prevents unauthorized access if it’s stolen or lost, especially if you’re using alternative login methods, such as signing in without a password.
This will remotely log you out of your Chromebook so that it requires a password to sign in again. If you have sensitive data, this should be done as soon as you notice it’s missing.
You can log out remotely from any device that has access to your Google Account. You can sign in from your phone, computer, other laptop, etc.
Log in to your Google Account that you used as the Chromebook admin.
Find the “Security” section, then “Your devices.”
Click on “Manage Devices.”
Note that there’s a “Find a lost device” button. This is useless for Chromebooks since they don’t have GPS. It’s only useful for phones or tablets.
Find the missing Chromebook. You should see a list of your devices that are signed in to that account.
Click on the lost device.
You may also see some other bits of pertinent info, such as the last time your Chromebook was used and where (city). This can confirm if it’s been stolen or used by someone else.
From here, you can choose to remove access to your Google Account, connected apps, or other remote actions. Find the “Account Access” section and follow the prompts.
From this section, you have only ONE option to remotely lock down your device. And that’s to sign out of your Google Account. Once signed out, they can’t use it unless they know your password.
Click on the options at the top right of the device block. You can find more options here, including:
Click on this to immediately sign your Google Account out of the Chromebook.
You’re now logged out remotely
If someone is using it, they’ll be logged out and required to login again. However, it must be connected to WiFi first.
If it’s offline, it’s OK. It’ll disconnect as soon as it connects to WiFi.
Besides, they can’t use your account if it’s offline. But once they get online, they’ll be locked out of it. Unless…they know your password.
So that’s why it’s time to…
Change your Google Password. Immediately change the password for your admin account after you’ve signed out. This will require future logins to use the new password after you’ve signed out of currently logged-in devices.
Find “Security” on the left menu> Signing in to Google > Password.
You know the drill.
Create a new password- make sure it’s secure and not related to your previous one. See these tips for creating a secure password or use a random generator.
Confirm the changes.
Once it’s changed, and you’ve logged out remotely from the missing Chromebook, no one should be able to get into your account.
If you have saved passwords in your Google Account, you’ll want to change them too.
Don’t see your Chromebook in the list of devices?
The Chromebook must be signed into SOMETHING that’s Google-related, like Gmail, YouTube, or Google Drive.
If there’s no user logged in to the device, nothing will be on the list of devices.
- It’s also possible that whoever has your Chromebook signed you out.
- Your device may have been removed from the account if the “Don’t recognize this device?” function was used.
- It must be YOUR Chromebook (personal), NOT a borrowed one. This should be obvious, but you’re not the owner if it’s borrowed.
- If the device is a school/work Chromebook, it won’t show up on the list. Technically, you’re not the admin of it, but rather just a user without elevated privileges. So if you sign in to the “Find my Chromebook/Phone” app, it won’t show up there.
Guest mode will still let people use your Chromebook if lost or stolen
Note that if they use Guest mode, they can STILL use your Chromebook.
BUT, it’s basically just an incognito account that has no connection to your account.
Once they sign out, everything they do is wiped from the device.
How to find a lost school Chromebook
So some other kid has stolen your school laptop and you’re freaking out.
They could be looking at your personal info, snooping on your Gmail, or even browsing your socials.
If your school Chromebook is missing, the first thing you should do is report it!
Tell someone who can forward the info to your school’s IT department, which can then disable or lock the device. Some schools use the S/N to monitor their enterprise devices. They can lock it from the serial number.
This way, if you have sensitive data on it, it’s protected from brute force logins.
Every school district will have its standard operating procedures for lost or missing Chromebooks. Your school will handle it their way.
If you have access to the Google Account you used to sign in to your Chromebook, you can manage it online as well.
Can you track Chromebooks by serial number?
You can view your Chromebook’s serial number any time by pressing “ALT + V” on the login screen.
This will give you an onscreen prompt that shows the unique identifier for your particular computer.
No other Chromebook has this unique string (that’s why it’s a serial number).
It may be required for warranty purposes or the manufacturer may ask for it if you’re doing RMA or exchanges- or if you threw the original box away and don’t have access to it anymore.
This number can be used to report your lost Chromebook if your school or work environment utilizes it.
Some IT teams will identify their devices by logging the serial numbers, which may be useful if you need to report it.
They can track which device is being used, but it provides limited information to you as the base user.
Otherwise, the serial isn’t that useful for locating or retrieving your lost or stolen Chromebook. Sorry.
Are there tracking apps for Chromebooks?
Chromebooks don’t have GPS chips built into them, so they don’t offer the precise tracking that Windows or Mac laptops have.
ChromeOS utilizes WiFi signals to give a tracking location, but it won’t be nearly as accurate as devices with built-in GPS chips.
Therefore, you can’t track your missing device other than the country, state, and sometimes the city where it’s located. If the Chromebook is connected to WiFi, Google can track it but there’s bound to be some granularity issues.
The country/city is likely everything you’ll get out of it. For school or work devices, they may have more options as the registered owner.
But if someone were to do a Powerwash on your device (without a password), it can completely wipe their ability to locate it.
Can I download a “Find my Chromebook” app?
There are no official tracking apps for Chromebooks.
If you’re looking for a “Find my” type of app, sadly it doesn’t exist. The only thing close to it is the Security section of your Google Account.
Chromebooks don’t have GPS chips built into them, so that’s why there’s a way to track them precisely. WiFi towers can only give basic information like the city.
This is why no apps exist for Chromebook tracking.
You may see these in the Google Play Store, but they’re created by third-parties which can be hit or miss (likely a miss).
Can you make your Chromebook ring or erase it remotely?
Sadly, these functions aren’t built into ChromeOS recovery. There has been plenty of demand for this kind of feature, so be sure to share your feedback!
Wiping your device remotely from the web would be useful if you’ve got sensitive data on there. Or making your Chromebook play a noise so you can find it if you’ve lost it in your house somwhere.
You’d think that these would be built in by default.
You can send feedback to the ChromeOS team by pressing “ALT + SHIFT + I” when logged in to any account. Perhaps they’ll include in later on.
Locate the Chromebook’s Google Admin
You can find out which Google Account is the owner of the Chromebook simply by looking at the account list. It’s the first one that shows up. This is the original owner of the system.
If you need to change the owner, you can do so by assigning the privileges through the primary (main) account to the new account.
Keep in mind if your device is lost and someone tries to reassign it, they can’t do it without signing into your account first.
But if they Powerwash it, it’ll reset it to default settings with no owner. The first person to sign in to it becomes the new owner with elevated admin privileges.
How to tell if a Chromebook is stolen
The obvious answer is if it has someone else’s Google Account signed in or even a few of them on the list of users. Check the login page to see.
Refurbished Chromebooks sold from a reputable seller will be Powerwashed so they’re like new.
There should be no Google Accounts when you boot it up for the first time.
But it’s possible that the person you bought it from doesn’t know how to reset it, so they just sold it to you with accounts intact.
You may want to confirm with the seller first if they’re the original owners.
Otherwise, stolen or lost Chromebooks may show the following signs of theft:
- Locked login screen that the seller can’t unlock
- List of random Google Accounts loaded onto the system
- Big warning on the login page that says “SIGN IN REQURIED”
- Name/contact written on the laptop
- Name or email of Google Account not matching that of the seller
- Damaged or broken parts
- School or work contact details on the device (stickers, engravings, writing, etc.)
- Checking if it’s been stolen isn’t something you can do quickly because there’s no way to be sure. But use your judgement!
- Enrolled Chromebooks into school or work environments that haven’t been unmanaged
The only way to discourage theft
While people have gotten creative by doing things like chaining their laptop to themselves, you probably don’t want to do the same.
Here are some ways to secure your Chromebook from theft:
Use the Kensington lock! This is overlooked, but all Chromebooks have it. You can secure your computer to a stationary object when you need to step away from it. Locks are cheap and make it extremely difficult for it to get taken.
Lock your Chromebook when you need to walk away from it. Or shut the lid.
Don’t leave it unattended in public spaces.
Never share or loan it to someone you don’t know.
Put something on it that identifies it as YOURS. In school or work environments where people have the same device, it can be easy to get them mixed up. Use a cool sticker or something.
Use common sense- if it can be taken, it will be taken!
Put your name, phone, and email on the Chromebook’s lid in permanent marker.
Then put “NOT FOR RESALE” on it. This makes reselling it nearly impossible if it goes missing.
While you can write it on the bottom, writing it on the lid is much more noticeable.
You need to think about how the reseller would think- taking pictures of it but purposely not taking some of the bottom. Then handing it to the buyer who may not check the bottom panel.
But not if you write it on the lid.
Yes, it’s ugly. But if you’re paranoid about it getting stolen then sold, it’s more likely to be dumped in a trash bin somewhere rather than being sold to someone looking for a good deal on used Chromebooks.
There are limited things you can do for a lost Chromebook
Once it’s gone, it’s (likely) gone. If you’re still wondering what to do if it’s lost, you’ve already read everything you can do.
With the limited options you have for recovering a lost or stolen device, you’ll only be able to do so much. Be quick.
Every second counts when it comes to trying to recover it. Lock your device whenever you step out. Sign out of your Google Account remotely ASAP.
Then take measures to retrace your steps to find out how it was lost. Check with local receptionists at libraries. Ask other peers or colleagues if they’ve seen it. Check with security or lost and found.
If you can’t recover it, at least make sure that your info is safe from other people accessing it by using the remote functions. You may be able to get clues if someone else is using it by checking the last known location.
Lastly, if it doesn’t belong to you because it’s a work or school Chromebook, tell the authorities so they know. Sometimes, it can be locked by the administrator using the serial number (S/N).
If you have any questions, please post a comment.