How Do I Access a Lost IPad That Is Locked With Apple’s Find Me Feature?

Apple’s Find Me feature can be a powerful tool for recovering lost or stolen devices. It can also be a headache if you purchased or otherwise legally acquired a used device that is still linked to another person’s account. In this week’s Tech 911 column, we take a look at the latter.

Lifehacker reader Jonathan writes:

Thanks for the article How to Set Up a Locked Mac. My father was given a tablet, which was found over a year ago. We left it lost and found and returned it to us at the end of the return period. Find My Phone was not disabled of course, and my dad contacted Apple hoping they could use the feature to return the device to its owner. He was upset that Apple did not contact its owner due to privacy concerns. He felt they were coaxing the owner into buying a new device instead of letting them know that someone had found their device. Now he just lies in his house and is not used. Is there a way to make it work on its own?

Let’s get rid of the bad news. If you’re looking at Activation Lock , you’re stuck. Apple is not going to remove it for you, and you have no way of doing it yourself. You will need to contact the original owner of the device – which you can’t seem to do – to enter their Apple ID / password or passcode on the iPad, or erase and remove the iPad from their iCloud account.

In short, activation lock = bad. Now you are the proud owner of an expensive paperweight, not a tablet.

And no, booting your iPad into recovery mode and trying to reset it by plugging it into your Mac won’t help. You will still see the Activation Lock screen when you try to set up your iPad because it is tied to Apple’s Find My feature.

On the other hand, it is at least reassuring for those in possession of lost and / or stolen devices. With Find My activated, an attacker will only be able to use parts of the iPhone – nothing more. I understand this will not give you your device back, but hopefully this is at least some form of deterrent for a potential iPhone or iPad thief.

As far as Apple’s reluctance to unlock your device, disable Activation Lock, or even tell you the contact information of the previous owner of the device, that’s to be expected. As long as you’re just trying to access a device that’s clearly lost for a while and probably forgotten, Apple has no way of verifying your history.

Consider an alternative. Let’s say you recently lost your iPhone and someone picked it up, either as an innocent person who bought it from someone who stole it, or something they found and decided to keep (if they weren’t able to contact you). Or worse, suppose someone just stole your iPhone from your hands.

Would you like this thief to be able to hack into any old Apple store and destroy your only security measure – Find Me – with a simple story? Again, I understand that most iPhone thieves nowadays are probably just selling devices piece by piece (or hope you haven’t turned on Find My), but I do think some would-be attackers will have a hard time finding out what the Device is on. which they target will be no more than a brick, assuming they don’t have the technical know-how to take it apart.

Likewise, I would not want the company to give out personal information about me – my email, phone number, or any other way to contact me – simply because someone found (or stole) my phone. While I understand that this means I am closing the door to a potential recovery option, I feel much better knowing that I can simply use Find My to provide this information, marking my device as lost , instead of worrying about that Apple is going to provide the thief with even more details about me.

In an ideal world, you could report a lost or stolen device to Apple, which might be a way to give Apple permission to provide some means of communication with you if the device was delivered to the Apple Store. However, this gets a little picky; and, again, you can always report the device yourself as lost through Find My. Apple, and rightly so, probably prefers not to interfere as much as possible, lest it end up in some tricky gray areas about who technically owns a missing device, especially if a second person has acquired a device that was previously reported missing. Ouch.

By the way, this is why it is very important to check if Find Me is turned off whenever you buy a used iPhone or iPad. Apple couldn’t be clearer about this , and for good reason; If you buy a device with Activation Lock turned on, you won’t be able to do anything with it when you go to reset it and set it up with your account credentials.

While this answer doesn’t give you the result you were looking for, I hope it explains at least a bit why the iPad you found is probably useless at the moment. This is frustrating for you, but think about the good side: you haven’t lost the expensive tablet you paid for. Chances are, you just won’t be able to use the expensive tablet you found.


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