How to Check If a Used iPhone Is Stolen Before You Buy It

Check public databases before you buy a secondhand phone

Apple formerly offered the Activation Lock tool that allowed people to verify with Apple whether a given iPhone's serial number had been reported stolen and therefore the device was no longer authorized to access any cellular network. Apple discontinued that service, which means there's no iPhone-specific tool for verifying the network eligibility of a phone. Instead, people buying iPhones secondhand must follow the same general procedures as purchasers of Android devices.

The IMEI-display procedure we outline below works on all currently supported versions of iOS.

How to Obtain the IMEI

Three iOS screens showing General, About, and IMEI Settings

Your first step before buying any used iPhone is to obtain the device's IMEI number. The International Mobile Equipment Identity number serves as a unique identifier for a specific telecommunications device. If a secondhand seller refuses to disclose the IMEI, do not proceed with the sale.

On an iPhone, visit Settings > General > About to view the IMEI.

For most devices, including non-Apple hardware, the IMEI may be obtained by checking the inside of the battery compartment or dialing *#06# on the handset.

Call Your Carrier

The easiest solution if you're already a customer of the wireless carrier is to call the carrier to see if the iPhone is blocked on the network. Although this method isn't perfect, odds are good that because networks align to radio types (CDMA versus GSM), your carrier will know if your device can be activated on its network.

Check the CTIA Database

Although it, too, isn't perfect, the CTIA's stolen-phone database is a pooled collection of stolen phone data. The major U.S. carriers all consult it and contribute data to it. It's only potential weakness is that a phone might not be reported stolen—for example, an old phone in a drawer pilfered by a thief.

As with any private transaction, a dose of skepticism helps. If a phone sale seems suspect, it probably is.