It’s unfortunate when it happens, but finding out that an iPhone you bought on eBay or Craigslist was stolen at some point isn’t the best news you want to hear. However, a new tool that Apple has released checks to see if an iPhone you’re about to buy from someone was at one point stolen from someone else.
Apple released a feature called Activation Lock when it launched iOS 7. This essentially prevents iOS devices from being stolen, or at the very least deters thieves from doing much else with an iPhone after they steal it.
When Find My iPhone is enabled on an iPhone, it locks that specific iPhone to that user’s Apple ID account. This means is that even when the iPhone is factory wiped, the device will still require the original Apple ID and password before someone else can use it as their own, turning it into a paperweight if it ever becomes stolen.
However, when you buy an iPhone off of eBay, Craigslist, or other used marketplace, you never really know if the iPhone you’re buying was stolen at one point until you find out that you can’t activate it with your own Apple ID account, since it’s already locked to the original owner’s account.
Apple’s new Activation Lock lookup tool aims to help buyers with this problem, and it allows users who are thinking about buying a used iPhone to see if it still has Activation Lock enabled or not. If it does, then it’s safe to say that the iPhone was likely stolen.
Here’s how to use Apple’s new tool to find out if that iPhone you’re about to buy on eBay is stolen or not.
How to Check if an iPhone Has Been Stolen
You can access Apple’s new Activation Lock lookup tool by heading to icloud.com/activationlock, and you don’t even have to sign into your iCloud account to access it. It’s completely free and open to use for anyone.
Once you’re on the webpage, you’ll be asked to enter in the iPhone’s serial number or IMEI number, both of which can be located in the Settings app by going to General > About. You’ll also need to enter in the CAPTCHA code just below that.
Instantly, Apple will tell you whether or not the iPhone still has Activation Lock enabled. One thing to be aware of is that if Activation Lock is still on, that doesn’t quite necessarily mean that the device was stolen. In fact, it could also mean that the user could’ve easily just forgot to turn Activation Lock off, but to find out which one it is, you’ll need to contact the current owner of the iPhone, which brings us to the next step.
Contacting the Owner
When we refer to “owner” here, we’re talking about the person who currently possesses the iPhone in question. So if the iPhone was stolen, the “owner” in this case is the person who currently has the iPhone in hand, which would be the thief.
In any case, if Apple’s online tool says that Activation Lock is still enabled for the iPhone that you’re going to buy, you’ll want to contact the “owner” to have it turned off before you’ll fork over any cash. Do this by asking them to disable Find My iPhone and erase the device.
This process will require the password of the Apple ID account that’s associated with the iPhone. If the “owner” says he can’t do this, it most likely means that the iPhone is stolen property and that you should look elsewhere for a used iPhone.
Of course, there have been methods in the past that can be used to see if an iPhone has been stolen or not, but the new Activation Lock tool allows users to check and see if an iPhone was stolen well before you even think about buying it, which is not only convenient, but it can save a ton of headaches down the road.
Furthermore, you can even use Apple’s Activation Lock tool for yourself to see if you actually erased your iPhone properly before selling it. To do this, you’ll simply want to make sure that you disable Find My iPhone before you erase the iPhone. Then, just enter the IMEI number or the serial number of the device into the tool to see if you properly erased it. If so, then it’s ready for its next owner.