How to Check If an iPhone is Stolen?

When it comes to the purchase of consumer electronics such as Smartphones, notebooks, and tablets, it is always advisable to buy new gadgets. By doing this, you are not only guaranteed of the quality but you also get to enjoy company warranties, and are sure of the authenticity of the product. However, due to high prices of these products, presence of stolen goods, and resold products, there is a big and growing used consumer electronics market. Unfortunately, the authenticity of these used products is sometimes questionable. This is because some of these products are either sourced through illegal means, have been stolen, or have been blacklisted.

Due to an increase in such issues, Apple introduced a new tracking tool in October 2014, which allows possible buyers to check whether the device they are planning to buy is stolen. The check stolen phone feature works through the company’s website. All what a prospective buyer needs to do is visit the Activation lock status page on the company website, check the phone’s IMEI or serial number, and look up whether the device’s IMEI or serial number has been locked by its original owner.

Unfortunately, sometimes it happens that you cannot access the About page on the device. In case of this, you can get the serial number or IMEI on the product package or look for the engravings on the back of the product.

Using the Activation lock status on the company website is the best way to check the authenticity of the device because hackers found ways of bypassing the activation lock screen in order to make illegally acquired, stolen, or blacklisted devices look legit. However, using this new tool you can still tell whether the device has been locked by its original owner as Apple still maintains this information.

The check stolen phone feature will assist you to stay out of trouble with the authorities because you will know in advance whether the device is legit or not. It will also help you know whether the seller is the original owner because if the seller is the original owner, he/she can remove the activation lock so that the device will be ready to have another Apple ID sign in to it.

In addition, it is important to ask for prove of purchase. This can be in the form of a receipt or original packaging. This can be used as another way of verifying authenticity in case the original user had not turned on the activation lock. Hope that you will remember to check the activation lock status before spending your hard-earned cash to buy a stolen device and land yourself in trouble with the authorities.

Photo source LWYang

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61 Responses

  1. lachris15 says:

    I always check before I buy something online because I know that this happens. i learned the hard way. It was not blocked but it was locked. Luckily It was brought from a person that I knew and I was able to get the password but from then on I now know that I have to be careful with whatever I buy. Even if you know the person no one wants to go through the process of asking someone.

  2. Blo0dAmit says:

    This is really helpful to me since I plan to buy a second hand phone soon due to low money at the moment.
    Thank you very much, this information will be of use.

  3. Michelle says:

    Well, this is neat I suppose, but how does it help? You find out you just bought a stolen iPhone, and then what? You go back and demand a refund? From a person who’s low enough to steal someone’s iPhone? I wouldn’t even want to mess with them, personally.

  4. Maya says:

    I love the extra security features that Apple has put in place in an attempt to keep down the amount of phone thefts. It is almost impossible to use a stolen iphone, yet kind of easy to find if it was stolen from you. Another reason why I love apple.

  5. tonya says:

    Thank you very much, this information will be of use.

  6. jviloriab96 says:

    What’s your advice on what to do when we are going to buy a phone and find out it’s stolen? What should we do if we already bought it? Besides reporting it to amazon/ebay (in case we’ve bought it there). This is my biggest fear every time I’m going to buy a used phone

  7. Murat says:

    I’ve had many people breaching me asking me to buy phones. I got an iPhone before. However, before I did, I asked them questions regarding why they want to sell their phones. They had reasonable answers, however, I caught them lying because when I asked them to turn on and unlock the phone, they actually came up with excuses saying they decided not to sell it. Before buying something, always ask for proof to show that they’re the actual owners.

  8. Qamara says:

    At last a way I can verify the phone I am buying is not stolen.

  9. Joyce Taylor says:

    When I buy any cell phone, I never buy them online, I always go to the store to buy my cell phones, that way I know that the phone, has not been stolen.

  10. Jesús Joel says:

    Well, In fact. I remember when My Number Phone was Locked cause I did Something Wrong On my device phone. So I was looking For an app to help me out to solve. But nonetheless I could not. with the app that I downloaded works to block and unblock device if it is stolen, but Actually I do not remember the app name.

  11. Siddharth says:

    The review is almost right
    I love the extra security features

  12. Grouchy says:

    Thanks for pointing out that it’s still possible the phone would only look legit.

    Normally I would be reassured as long as it can turn on and it functions, but to think there could be even more to it. Nice to be reminded that we can check if the phone is stolen.

  13. Mimi1 says:

    My friend purchased a phone off Ebay, which was her first mistake, she had it shipped over to her but luckily when the original owner tracked it down she was able to provide a return address and the seller was caught. This is definitely useful, especially with online purchases, you never know. I personally will always get my phones straight from the providers, just safer that way.

  14. louise says:

    Thanks – this is so helpful, as I am looking to buy an iphone online and hadn’t even thought of the possibility that it might have been stolen. I will definitely check using the Apple tracking feature to make sure that it isn’t stolen.

  15. Mitesh Shanbhag says:

    Enter your serial number and you’ll get all the information including warranty.

  16. aquaticneko says:

    This is one of the reasons I never buy certain things used. Sure, I’ll deal with buying it if its from family and close friends, but I certainly don’t want to get in trouble. Buying phones off eBay can be such a risk. These people could be getting phones from anywhere. Often times these devices can save your private data and still have that information for access to anyone with the know how. Risky stuff.

  17. asmada says:

    actually i prefer to buy my devices from the origin providers because it is the only way i trust that my phone is origin and safe and i’ll be sure that am not losing my money.

  18. SashaS says:

    Apple’s phones have always had the upper hand when it comes to security. When your Android device running KitKat or below is stolen, the thief can simply press the power and volume up button and factory reset the device, bypassing any lock screen that was initially implemented and making it as if the phone is brand new. Android Lollipop introduced a factory reset protection system, whereby even after doing a hardware factory reset, the thief will have to enter the original owner’s email and password, so unless they have that, they cannot access the device. To no-one’s surprise, hackers immediately created software that bypasses this. With an iPhone, none of the above is possible, this is why I will always own one, I’m rest assured that if my device is stolen, no user can access my data. iCloud will force the user to enter the Apple ID and password after the thief manages to do a factory reset by resintalling a fresh ROM, but even after this, they cannot proceed, rendering the phone iCloud locked.

  19. madetofly says:

    That sounds like a good idea, luckily, I never got my phone stolen or lost, but I’ve heard from people who had their stolen. This feature could be useful, but you must be able to track, and permanently lock you phone, that way it would be of no good to steal someones phone.

  20. Sohum says:

    Before reading this I use to go to store and buy a phone, as I was afraid that buying online can create a problem but now I can verify the phone I am buying is not stolen, thats so wonderful Thanks, this is so helpful Thanks a lot

  21. yeppeo says:

    Really helpful. As a technology noob I appreciate your detailed explanations.

  22. Hollie says:

    This information is very useful. A lot of the time people do step away from used goods because they do think it is stolen and no one wants to be in possession of stolen property. With this extra security measure people can have a good state of mind when buying a used iPhone.

  23. Pat says:

    I plan to purchase a previously owned laptop from the pawnshop where they check the persons right to sell the device before they purchase it. That helps to cut down on the chance of purchasing a stolen device.

    I have purchased a tablet from a private owner without any problems but I know there is a risk when you purchase from a person instead of a store.

    This is good information.

  24. ZXD22 says:

    I have always looked for the major signs of a stolen phone whenever I buy them away from their company outlets such as AT&T and Verizon. I never even knew about the Activation Lock Status, but that’s probably because I use an android and its a bit different from apple. Thanks so much!

  25. drdsol92 says:

    Something to keep in mind since I’ll be buying my second iPhone soon. It is rather troublesome, having to check a phone’s activation lock status and raising doubts about the vendor’s legitimacy in the process, which may even end up offending him or her, but hey, better safe than sorry.

    • Lamb0 says:

      Yeah, you’re right. Better safe than sorry. Rather than be offended, shouldn’t the seller be encouraging to do so to prove the product’s legitimacy? So if the seller felt offended, you should be careful because the product may be stolen.

  26. Ansantana92 says:

    Really helpful article.
    I recently bought a used smartphone and took all these precautions.

  27. Kass says:

    Thank you for the info!! I have bought several phones before through trading sights/groups where the owners sell their used electronics. I had no idea a feature like this was available! I wish I would have known of something like this a few years ago. My brand new phone was stolen and was out $900 just like that. That is the reason I now buy used phones. I’ll definitely look more into this!

  28. spence88 says:

    Thanks for this article. It’s good that Apple has this kind of control implemented over the phones. My Mom has been planning to buy an iPhone for quite a while now. But she’s still choosing whether to buy a brand new or second hand. If she decides to buy second hand, I will definitely tell her about this, if the seller cannot prove his purchase. Better be careful than sorry.

  29. Novelangel says:

    Very interesting. I wasn’t aware that such an app existed. I also wasn’t aware that this was such a problem. I knew that since the I phone is so expensive, it gets stolen more often than most other cell phones. Is this a common problem with remanufactured I phones? I just have an Android phone but mine is factory serviced, which made it cheaper. I wonder if there are similar programs for other cell phone types?

  30. markll says:

    Great info. I usually buy second-hand laptops, but I do it from well-established companies, never from random individuals, cause I fear the dangers of buying from a thief. When it comes to buying cellphones I always buy new, there’s no reason to risk getting an infected phone. I guess most people won’t bother reporting that their phone was stolen so they may get away with a lot of the loot.

    • thePENofGODx0x0xz7 says:

      I have always wondered if it were possible to legally get a new serial number and change all the credentials of a second hand device. If so, that would be very helpful in the event that you would have to maintain your privacy to avoid theft.

  31. carl g says:

    great tip i never knew this feature was offered on apples website thank you. but quick question there are some cell phone providers that allow you to activate a phone under them regardless if its stolen or not correct?

  32. eduguy says:

    Wow! I did not know that iPhone had a tracking system for iPhones and my family has been using them since the iPhone 3GS. I got my iPhone 5C used as a gift, and I know that the buyer had to go through many procedures to make sure that the phone was legit and was not stolen or blacklisted. They did not use the Apple tracking system though, which definitely could’ve came in handy.

    I noticed one small issue with your post relating to word choice and spelling. In the last paragraph, you wrote “In addition, it is important to ask for prove of purchase”. I think the correct way to say it is “proof of purchase”. Anyways, great article!

  33. SashaS says:

    My iPhone 5S was stolen last year and I immediately did an iCloud lock and was grateful for the fact that I had Touch ID enabled for the lock screen. I had a lot of data including credit cards on it and I was happily rest assured that the theif could not take any of that data. I applaud Apple for the awesome security they implement on their devices.

  34. krnd says:

    I think this was one of the best things implemented, especially living in a third world country where you get your phone stolen so often. Of course it isn’t going to stop them from getting it but they have a much harder time selling it back to someone else. Glad to have an iPhone now..

    • Clair02 says:

      That’s true. Where I live, phones get stolen so often that some people actually have a habit of buying a cheap little phone and then using that any time they are out in the night and leaving the fancy phone at home. That’s how often people are getting robbed of their phones. It is really good to know that even if they get it, we made it harder for them to make money from it.

  35. odielloigan says:

    I still think its better to buy a new device to avoid any inconveniences.

  36. Pyral Kaita says:

    Wow, this is really helpful I would hate for my phone to be stolen and sold D:

  37. Naturalbeauty92 says:

    Wow, definitely a lot of people scamming over the Internet. People will find anyway to make cash and this is ridiculous. I always check out any device I plan to purchase.

  38. jahden says:

    I usually buy things brand new but have definitely bought used electronics before. This is extremely important information that should be on the news! I intend to use these techniques before buying a used phone in the future. My dad and I both had our phones stolen recently.

  39. nytegeek says:

    This is very useful information. I wish more people would check. I buy and sell a lot of used electronics and I always try to verify that I’m not handling any stolen items. The last thing I need would be for something like that to come back on me. It’s not good for business.

  40. anorexorcist says:

    Thanks for sharing this information with us.
    I think that buying a stolen phone is one of my biggest fears, it’s just scary that you can get into a legal problem for just buying a phone, that’s why I don’t buy cellphones or devices in general that aren’t legit or suspicious. I also think that what apple did it’s great, I hope that the other comapnies do the same thing or something similar would be really useful for a lot of people.

  41. purpletears says:

    Thank you very much for sharing this info with us. It´s very helpful, especially when you buy used electronics. If you know something is stolen, and still you buy it, you are only helping the criminals to keep harming innocent people. So, always remember to be carful with what you buy.

  42. ecpata says:

    I find it interesting how in today day and age we’re able to do things like this. I remember when I was a freshman participating in track and field I left my first iPhone which was a 5s in my bag during practice. When I came back it just so happened that my precious new iPhone had been stolen. This article is actually the exact story of what I did to get what little justice I could being that I never ended up seeing the phone again. At least I know that my stolen goods were a hell of a lot harder to flip for cash.

  43. Josh says:

    I have bought (and sold) a good number of iPhones using Craigslist and eBay. The thought of the phone being stolen was always in the back of my mind. You can’t really go and ask the person if the phone is stolen, of course they will say no. I never thought there would be a tool such as this offered by Apple. I will definitely use this in the future when I buy iPhones. Thanks!

  44. ZOEANN06 says:

    It is best just not to purchase a cell phone online. It may be cheaper, but there are many other reasons other than the device being stolen that could cause a major problem. Purchasing a phone online can show that the device is in good conditions by the pictures on the listing, but in reality those photos can be from the Internet and you would just receive. Chances are other problems would eventually occur with the phone, but knowing that you have a stolen phone is not the right option. It’s much easier to buy them new in the store versus buying them stolen and damaged.

  45. thePENofGODx0x0xz7 says:

    Apple IDs utilizing the iCloud lock dynamics can incapacitate anyone that seeks to utilize your iphone without proper authentication. Among these there are 100s of apps available that specialize in theft prevention.

  46. NaviKing says:

    I had no idea this existed, so thank you for the information. However, it seems like this feature would be difficult to use in the heat of the moment (i.e., while purchasing the phone), unless you happened to be in a place with a computer nearby or something like that.

    Also, would it be too much trouble to hyperlink the check stolen phone page in the article? I think that would be very useful for those of us who would like to investigate this new tool right away.

  47. Carolyn Klitsch says:

    This was very helpful! I never even thought about stolen phones being sold on websites such as Craigslist. It seems like a no-brainer to consider these things, but I suppose it just never crossed my mind. This article was great, though! Very informative! Now I will know to think before I buy used electronics.

  48. Birdman says:

    Thanks for this, recently bought some new phones for social media and they were off of a local listings so always on the fence with this. Need to always know this information before you end up turning wireless on only to find out it is being tracked since it is stolen. Great post.

  49. OutOfSpoons says:

    I’m not usually one to buy used, and this is a good reason not to. Buying stolen products can get you into big trouble. Good thing Apple introduced this to keep unsuspecting buyers out of trouble.

  50. hyperactive says:

    I never knew that. That’s actually a great feature if you think about it. There are so many crimes nowadays that you never really know if you’re buying a legit phone or not. Unfortunately I don’t own an Apple phone, I wonder if you can do this with Android or other Apple products. I hear a lot of stories about iPads being stolen.

    Nice article by the way!

  51. ProNine says:

    I believe it’s quite important to check whether an iPhone has been stolen in order to stay out of trouble with authories and also, to prevent those who stole the phones from gaining any profit. A good thing to keep in mind is that a good seller will not mind you checking the phone’s authenticity and will not bother you about it. Suspicious sellers might complain and tell you that it’s not necessary and that it’s legit and all. Those are sellers whom you need to be wary of. Also, I do not know how everyone feels about reporting to authorities, but if you find a seller who’s selling multiple expensive stolen iPhones, then maybe you might want to call the authorities. Also, it doesn’t seem that the author actually linked the tool so here it is:

  52. Zach says:

    Thanks! I have never thought about a way to tell whether or not a device is stolen or legitimate. Knowing this I will better my future into finding real phones that are actually owned by the previous owner and not someone looking for some easy money. Although this is a very long process and a lot of work I feel it is worth it to get your money’s worth.

  53. Kasey Carr says:

    People stealing phones today is the main reason why you should buy your phones from legit phone dealers. I would never buy a phone from somebody who I don’t know. It’s important to ask questions before you buy because that technique may not always work. There could also be false information within the phone.

  54. rz3300 says:

    Well I know that this would really be helpful for a couple of my friends. I happen to have an Android phone, but now that I think about it I suppose a lot of these steps are the same for making sure I got one that was not stolen. You can just never really too sure these days, and so double-checking and looking into it certainly a good idea. Thank you for the nice list and for sharing, I am sure that a lot of people will get some great use out of it.

  55. TayH says:

    I had no idea you could check the IMEI so easily and establish the basic information you would need to make sure you are purchasing a legitimately obtain phone. I’m guessing this can also work for other Apple devices and makes it so easy not be be caught in a bind by purchasing a product only to be left with something you did not bargain for.

  56. Clair02 says:

    I agree that we all have to always make sure that we check to see if an iphone is stolen when we buy it. If the person who is selling it has nothing to hide, then they won’t mind at all. Also I would appreciate the peace of mind of knowing that i’m not going to be using a phone that was stolen from someone else.

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