How To + Recommended

Want to Buy a Secondhand iPhone? Here’s How to Check if it was Stolen

Posted on October 3rd, 2014 by

I’ve written before about the “Kill Switch” (more gently referred to as the “Activation Lock”) built into iOS 7 and iOS 8 to deter the growing problem of smartphone thieves.

Although modern smartphones allow you to send a remote wipe command if you lose them, ensuring that your private data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, that doesn’t necessarily stop criminals from forcing a “factory reset,” and reselling the device as though it had just been purchased in the local Apple store.

But if you had the foresight to enable your iDevice’s Activation Lock, and turn on “Lost Mode” after having mislaying your iPhone, then no-one will be able to use the device (even after a factory reset) without entering your Apple username and password first.

Activation lock on iPhone


But there’s only one problem. What if you’re thinking of buying a used or secondhand iPhone or iPad, and want to check whether it has been locked to another user *before* you hand over any cash?

Enter Apple’s new Activation Lock status check tool.

Activation Lock status checker

All you have to do is visit Apple’s Activation Lock status check page, enter the device’s serial number or IMEI, and it will tell you if it is locked or not.

Not sure how to find out an iPhone or iPad’s serial number or other information? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Firstly, you can look it up through your software. On your iDevice, click on Settings > General > About to see your device’s serial number, IMEI and other information.

IMEI / serial number etc

If the About screen cannot be accessed for any reason, then Apple provides a number of other ways to determine the serial number and IMEI. For instance, it should be printed on the packaging your iPhone or iPad arrived in, or you may find it engraved on the back of the device.

It’s a good idea, by the way, to make a note of this information whenever you buy a new iPhone or iPad as you may wish to share it with the authorities in the unfortunate event of you ever losing your precious gadget.

And, of course, if you find the device you are thinking of buying *has* been Activation Locked you can politely remind the seller of the importance of unlocking it *before* they sell it to you.

Because, if they are the genuine owner of the device and authorised to sell it, they shouldn’t have a problem doing that – right? 😉

Hopefully more and more iPhone and iPad users will begin to benefit from the protection that Activation Lock provides. The feature is turned on by default in iOS 8, and is accompanied by a new feature called “Send Last Location” that pushes out your device’s geographic co-ordinates just before the battery runs out.

About Graham Cluley

Graham Cluley is an award-winning security blogger, researcher and public speaker. He has been working in the computer security industry since the early 1990s, having been employed by companies such as Sophos, McAfee and Dr Solomon's. He has given talks about computer security for some of the world's largest companies, worked with law enforcement agencies on investigations into hacking groups, and regularly appears on TV and radio explaining computer security threats. Graham Cluley was inducted into the InfoSecurity Europe Hall of Fame in 2011, and was given an honorary mention in the "10 Greatest Britons in IT History" for his contribution as a leading authority in internet security. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley. View all posts by Graham Cluley →