I converted to the cult of Mac about 3 years ago. I’d used Macs a bit in elementary school, and then again during college in our school’s computer lab, but it wasn’t until after I graduated that I bought my first MacBook. 3+ years later and it’s still going strong; I’ve never had a single issue with it.

Well, okay, just the one issue. For a while a few months back, my Mac was possessed.

Okay, not like “possessed by a ghost” possessed, but something strange was definitely going on. I’d just be typing, and all of a sudden, the cursor would jump to a random location on the page and all my text would move to that portion of the document. Sections of my text documents would get highlighted, and then get completely erased the next time I made a keystroke. It was AWFUL. My productivity plummeted because I couldn’t write even half a blog post without it all going to pieces.

My ensuing struggle with my Mac to solve the mystery of the phantom cursor took about a week of searching Mac user forums, inventive troubleshooting, and asking my friends who used Macs if they had ever encountered something similar.

If you’ve got the dreaded “phantom cursor” haunting your Mac (and you’re running a version of OSX 10), here’s a rundown of the major causes of this issue to help you diagnose what is causing your cursor malfunction.

Common Cause #1: You Need to Adjust Your Trackpad Settings

For some Mac laptops, the problem is related to your trackpad settings. To figure out if your cursor issues are caused by your settings, go into System Preferences. Select Trackpad, and then de-select the box for Trackpad Gestures and check “Ignore accidental trackpad input”. By effectively making your trackpad less sensitive to your input, you may eliminate the cause of your cursor issues.

Another possible way to resolve the phantom cursor issue on a Mac laptop is to attach a USB mouse and use that in lieu of your trackpad. If a faulty trackpad is the cause of your cursor bouncing around the screen, using a mouse instead can circumvent the fault. Just make sure to go into System Preferences after plugging in the mouse and select “Ignore Trackpad When Mouse is Present” under Trackpad Settings.

Common Cause #2: You Need to Reset Your PRAM

The parameter RAM (PRAM) is where a Mac stores basic information (such as the time) so that you do not need to re-enter it every time you start up the computer. Resetting the PRAM is sort of like a smarter way of trying to fix a tech problem by turning the machine off and on again. Not particularly elegant, but it can often get the job done.

First, shut down your computer. Then, unplug it, remove the battery, and then hold down the power button for a count of ten. Replace the battery re-attach the power cord. Turn the computer back on and immediately hold down the following keys: Option, Command, P, R.

Keeping holding these keys down, and you will hear a soft chime. Keep holding those four keys down until your computer chimes for the second time, then release them. The reset is then complete, and you are ready to try writing again and see if the phantom cursor program still persists.

Common Cause #3: You’ve Got Malware

If you have malware, viruses, or spyware infecting your computer, they can sometimes cause cursor malfunction. As we all know, Macs are generally less likely to get these sorts of problems than PCs, but it can still happen. Use a free trial of a program like MacScan to check your hard drive for anything nasty. If the program finds anything, it can isolate and delete it safely.

Common Cause #4: Trackpad Damage/Misalignment

In my case, this was the source of all my phantom cursor woes. Over time, (and partially due to playing too many video games that caused me to do vigorous clicking) my trackpad had gotten slightly depressed, sending it out of alignment and causing my computer to read it as constantly being clicked on.

In the case of my MacBook, my Mac-savvy roommate saved the day. He removed the battery from my laptop’s case, and used gentle pressure with his fingers to nudge the battery housing very slightly just underneath the trackpad. This slight pressure was just enough to pop the trackpad up a few millimeters into its correct position.

What about you guys? Have you ever had a “phantom cursor” problem? And if so, how did you solve it? Tell us in the comments section below!

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