Tip: Make sure a used iPhone wasn't stolen before you buy it on Craigslist or eBay

Posted:
in iPhone edited December 2015
Buying a used iOS device online can potentially be a way of saving hundreds of dollars -- to be safe, though, it's wise to try Apple's relatively unknown Activation Lock Status tool to make sure you're getting something legal and functional.




Many people are selling Apple devices through services like Craigslist and eBay, but given the nature of these websites, it can be difficult to tell if a product is legitimate. Even if is, sellers can sometimes leave Activation Lock on by accident, and the feature must be off before a device can be used by a new owner.

Located under Find My iPhone at the iCloud web portal, the Activation Lock Status tool lets people input a serial number for an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. In the case of iPhones and cellular-ready iPads, users can alternately enter an IMEI number. Apple's website has a guide to locating these digits.

Activation Lock is built into iOS 7, 8, and 9, and flips on if a person chooses to use Find My iPhone. The feature is meant to deter theft by making it impossible to reactivate a device without entering the right Apple ID and password. It also prevents anyone but the original owner from erasing data, or disabling Find My iPhone's location tracking.

Asking for an serial number or IMEI is one relatively easy way of making sure a device is clear to go before a purchase. Sellers who refuse to share this information shouldn't be trusted. Ideally, a better way -- if you can meet in person -- is to have the person disable Find My iPhone in front of you.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 14
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 3,907member

    Actually asking for the number means nothing, they can give you a number for broken phone with a valid activated number and ship you something else.

    I was selling some old phones inline and got a strange call from a guy asking if the phones were broken after I said no, he then ask if I even come into possession of broken phones, he said he would buy them since they would remove the modem chip and solder it on to a phone which was locked.

    When I have sold phone and people ask me if they work, I tell them to bring their SIM card and plug it into the phone, this is the only way to be sure it will work.

  • Reply 2 of 14
    Great tip AI, but I went to tweet out and your webpage address for tweeting is ridiculously long. You need to set up proper shortened tweet able website addresses that redirect.
  • Reply 3 of 14
    I don't trust that method. Now I've been getting people e-mailing me about used iOS devices asking me to send them my IMEI or serial number so they can check if it's a valid (not stolen) device. Like I'm going to give that information out to someone I don't know.

    A much simpler method is to have the seller turn off Find My iPhone (which requires an Apple ID/password) right in front of you. If they can turn it off, then at least you know they own the device (whether or not they're selling one on contract or bought with a stolen Visa is another matter).

    I once looked at a used iPhone where Find My iPhone was ALREADY off. So I turned it on (which doesn't require any password) and THEN asked the seller to turn it off. They couldn't and seemed dumbfounded as to what the feature was. Clearly they were selling a phone that wasn't theirs (didn't know the Apple ID/password) and now were stuck with a locked iPhone.
    pscooter63dbbcflashfan207
  • Reply 4 of 14
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 5,650member
    The Apple discussion forums are full of people asking how to unlock the iPhone they bought from “some dude on the Internet” or a “friend who gave it to them.” They get very irate, at Apple of course, when told they bought a brick if they can’t locate the owner and ask them to release the device.
    edited December 2015
  • Reply 5 of 14
    This is bad advice. You shouldn't ask for IMEIs/serials, and you definitely shouldn't give them out if someone is asking you for one.

    If I'm a bad guy with a stolen phone and I want to trick people into buying it, what do I do? I go and find someone with a legitimate phone and ask for their IMEI under the guise of making sure their phone isn't stolen. I now have a valid IMEI that I can use whenever someone asks for the IMEI to the stolen phone I'm selling.

    if someone sells an Apple ID-locked phone on eBay, it's trivial to complain to eBay and get a refund. There is very little risk to the buyer in this case. Refunds in no way require the cooperation of the seller. If you're buying a phone on Craigslist, you're pesumably meeting in person and can verify the phone is functional and unlocked before any money changes hands. These easy solutions are greatly preferable to asking buyers for confidential information they shouldn't reveal (and which is meaningless if they do, since you have no way of knowing if they gave you the info for their device or someone else's.)

    edited December 2015 latifbp
  • Reply 6 of 14
    bobschlobbobschlob Posts: 1,074member
    I buy used iPhones off of eBay. It's simple; just skip all auctions that don't meet two criteria.
    1) Description includes "clean IMEI" and "clean iCloud".
    2) the seller has a good number of previous eBay transactions / positive feedback.

    Really nothing else to it.
  • Reply 7 of 14
    Two years ago, my iPad was stolen …I just looked up the serial number at the site you provided: https://www.icloud.com/activationlock/ It came back that Activation Lock is is Off with time stamp December 21, 2015, 1:57PM EST I wonder if law enforcement, or Apple, can tell me "where it is right now"?
  • Reply 8 of 14
    maestro64 said:

    When I have sold phone and people ask me if they work, I tell them to bring their SIM card and plug it into the phone, this is the only way to be sure it will work.

    If doing it in person, this is the best way. It also makes sure you don't get a phone that is blacklisted by the carrier.
  • Reply 9 of 14
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 1,278member
    Few people pointed out crook will ask your good iphone IMEI and in turn use for selling their bad iphone to give to potential buyer as proxy. I bought several iphones from craiglist and never got cheated.. After receiving IMEI, I verify using Apple tools and if good(no icloud lock) than I tell seller that I will verify the same IMEI you gave me going into Settings->General of your iphone when we meet. This will give direct message to those who want to cheat. Such seller will not show up. So, it is simple. If you don't get IMEI than as people said above, ask them to turn off "find my iphone" in front of you. Also, plug-in your SIM and verify if it works. Also, meet at places like MCDonald or Starbucks where you can connect your other device to internet and than plug-in IMEI that time to Apple icloud lock tool and if it comes up clean than buy. Many ways to not get cheated buying used iphone off craiglist. Besides being careful to obvious cheating, you also have to test few things like home button, camera, wifi, audio jack,etc
    edited December 2015
  • Reply 10 of 14
    I recently sold an iPhone 4S on eBay. A potential bidder messaged me asking for the IMEI so she could make sure the phone was "clear" before placing a bid. Not being sure what to do exactly, I simply did not reply. The phone sold to a different bidder. I understand and appreciate a potential buyer being concerned, but due to limited knowledge and experience, I was't comfortable giving this number out.
  • Reply 11 of 14
    I don't trust that method. Now I've been getting people e-mailing me about used iOS devices asking me to send them my IMEI or serial number so they can check if it's a valid (not stolen) device. Like I'm going to give that information out to someone I don't know.

    A much simpler method is to have the seller turn off Find My iPhone (which requires an Apple ID/password) right in front of you. If they can turn it off, then at least you know they own the device (whether or not they're selling one on contract or bought with a stolen Visa is another matter).

    I once looked at a used iPhone where Find My iPhone was ALREADY off. So I turned it on (which doesn't require any password) and THEN asked the seller to turn it off. They couldn't and seemed dumbfounded as to what the feature was. Clearly they were selling a phone that wasn't theirs (didn't know the Apple ID/password) and now were stuck with a locked iPhone.
    How would that work if the phone has been restored to factory? Find My iPhone would already be off. 
  • Reply 12 of 14
    bobschlob said:
    I buy used iPhones off of eBay. It's simple; just skip all auctions that don't meet two criteria.
    1) Description includes "clean IMEI" and "clean iCloud".
    2) the seller has a good number of previous eBay transactions / positive feedback.

    Really nothing else to it.
      Early September i went with a used phone reseller for an iphone 6 plus that was guaranteed unlocked and clean imei. Popped my Tmobile sim in and it wouldnt register on their network. checked it online and yep it was blocked. The reseller surmised that the phone was financed and that they stopped paying sometime after the phone cleared their checks. That adds another caveat with financed phones.  I returned it and just bought a new iPhone 6s plus 128gb direct from Tmobile for peace of mind.
  • Reply 13 of 14
    bobschlob said:
    I buy used iPhones off of eBay. It's simple; just skip all auctions that don't meet two criteria.
    1) Description includes "clean IMEI" and "clean iCloud".
    2) the seller has a good number of previous eBay transactions / positive feedback.

    Really nothing else to it.
      Early September i went with a used phone reseller for an iphone 6 plus that was guaranteed unlocked and clean imei. Popped my Tmobile sim in and it wouldnt register on their network. checked it online and yep it was blocked. The reseller surmised that the phone was financed and that they stopped paying sometime after the phone cleared their checks. That adds another caveat with financed phones.  I returned it and just bought a new iPhone 6s plus 128gb direct from Tmobile for peace of mind.

    The real scammers just "buy" new iPhones on a payment plan with a stolen identity. They immediately resell the iPhone for $$$. Once the payments stop, the carriers blacklist the iPhone & the buyer is left with a worthless brick. 
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