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How to avoid buying a stolen iPhone | iMore


If you’re looking to buy a used iPhone from an unofficial reseller like eBay or Craigslist, you run the risk of ending up with a stolen piece of property. As a conscientious buyer, you should “run the numbers” to make sure that a device hasn’t been reported stolen or blacklisted at cell phone carriers.

Step 1: Get the IMEI

The only way to check to see if a phone has been reported stolen is with its unique device identification number. It’s often called IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity), but is also known as an ESN (electronic serial number), or MEID (mobile equipment identifier). In some cases, it might be called a UDID (unique device identifier). It’s the number that police and carriers use to mark a phone as lost or stolen in their database.

Before you buy an iPhone from an unofficial reseller, ask the seller privately to send you the IMEI. Be very polite and explain why you want the number. It’s common procedure for buyers to ask for and sellers to give this information, but if you just send a message saying, “Hey, what’s the IMEI?” you’re not helping the seller trust that you’re not going to try something nefarious with the information.

First, explain to the seller why you want the IMEI, which is that you’d like to make sure that it can be activated with your carrier. You could also mention that you’d like to ensure that it is clear of any blacklisting.

It’s probably a good idea to link to one of the services you plan to use to check the IMEI, like CTIA’s Stolen Phone Checker or Swappa to show the seller that you’ve done some research and are just trying to ensure a good transaction.

Sellers: Provide IMEI privately to buyers that seem legit

If you’re selling a device on eBay or Craigslist, it’s highly likely that someone is going to ask for the IMEI. It’s common to ask for it, but you’re not required to give it. Most of the time, you should feel comfortable sharing your IMEI privately with the buyer if they seem genuinely interested in buying. It’s up to your discretion whether you decide to give this information, though.

If you don’t feel comfortable providing your unique device identifier, you can try running the numbers yourself and take a screenshot of most (but not all) of the IMEI numbers blurred out alongside a screenshot of your iPhone’s About section with most (but not all) of the IMEI numbers blurred out.

If that’s not good enough for the buyer, and you’re both in the same area, you could offer to meet them at a carrier store and have the person activate the phone in your presence to confirm that it’s a clean device.

Step 2: Run the numbers

Similar to the way buyers would ask for a vehicle identification number (VIN) so they could run the numbers to make sure a car isn’t stolen, you can run the IMEI on a phone to check to see if it’s been reported stolen. There are a couple of different companies that offer this service.

  • CTIA
  • Swappa
  • T-Mobile
  • AT&T

When you enter the IMEI, if it comes up with information about blacklisting or carrier activation issues, you’ll know not to go through with the transaction.

Whenever possible, get visual proof that it’s not stolen

It’s not always easy, but you could try to get the seller to send you evidence of them unlocking the phone, logging out of iCloud, and turning off Find My iPhone so you can see with your own eyes that the phone is accessible and the person selling it has the correct login credentials. If you live in the same area, be sure to ask the seller, in person, to show you that the device passcode is disabled, that they have signed out of iCloud, and that they have turned off Find My iPhone before you buy it.

If you don’t live in the same area, you could ask for a video. If the seller says something like, “I don’t remember my password” or “it was my brother’s and he died,” don’t buy the device.

How to avoid buying a stolen iPhone | iMore

What to do if you’ve already bought a stolen device

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