How to Unlock iCloud-Locked iPhones

New phone with old owner info? Forgot your password? Try these tips

Having an iPhone with an iCloud lock is a problem because you can't use the phone until you unlock it, and doing so may not be easy. Your best bet is to understand what it means to have an iCloud-locked iPhone, how to fix this issue, and what to avoid when trying to open it up again.

These instructions apply to devices running iOS 7 and later.

What Is an iCloud-Locked iPhone?

Frustrated person looking at Activation Lock on an iPhone
Kaley McKean / Lifewire

Another name for iCloud locking is Activation Lock, which is a feature Apple introduced in iOS 7 to prevent iPhone thefts.

Your iPhone or iPad automatically turns on Activation Lock whenever Find My iPhone is active. Once you enable the feature, nobody can delete the device, activate it on a different account, or disable Find My iPhone without entering the Apple ID username and password that originally set up the phone.

Activation Lock is an effective anti-theft measure. A thief almost certainly won't have the iCloud username and password for the person whose phone they stole, and without it, the phone won't work.

How to Tell When an iPhone Is iCloud Locked

If you see an onscreen message that reads Activation Lock, the phone is iCloud locked and needs the original Apple ID username and password you used to set up the phone to unlock it.

icloud activation lock on an ipad, iphone, and apple watch
Apple

Are All iCloud-Locked Phones Stolen?

Just because an iPhone is showing an Activation Lock message, that doesn't necessarily mean it's stolen. It's possible to enable Activation Lock accidentally. Some situations in which this could happen include:

  • Forgetting to turn off Find My iPhone before erasing the iPhone
  • Forgetting to sign out of iCloud before erasing the iPhone
  • If your Apple ID is disabled.

In those cases, you'll get the Activation Lock screen when trying to set up the phone again. These mistakes are somewhat common when buying used iPhones.

That said, iCloud locking is also a sign there might be a reason to suspect a phone is stolen. If you're buying a used iPhone, be sure to ask whether Activation Lock is disabled, and if it's not, don't buy the phone.

While they both use the "locked" terminology, an iCloud-locked phone is not the same as a locked phone. "Locked" can mean that the phone needs a passcode in order to access it. It can also mean that the phone is tied to a single phone company, usually while you're under contract. Any phone can be locked to a service provider. It has nothing to do with Activation Lock, iCloud, or stolen phones.

How to Unlock an iCloud-Locked iPhone

If you see the Activation Lock screen on the iPhone you're trying to activate, enter the Apple ID username and password first used to activate the phone, and the phone will open. If you forgot your Apple ID password, you'll need to reset it.

If you're running iOS 11 or later and use Two-Factor Authentication to secure your Apple ID, you can disable Activation Lock using your device passcode. Select Unlock with Passcode, tap Use Device Passcode, and then enter the passcode.

The process gets more complex when the username and password aren't yours, like if you bought a used iPhone. If an iPhone is iCloud-locked to an account other than yours, you have a few options.

If the person whose account was originally used is physically near you:

  1. Ask them to enter their Apple ID account credentials on the phone.

  2. When the phone gets to the home screen, they should sign out of iCloud:

    • On iOS 10.2 and earlier, go to Settings > iCloud > Sign Out.
    • On iOS 10.3 and up, go to Settings > [your name] > Sign Out.
    Signing out of an Apple ID on iPhone
  3. When asked for their Apple ID username and password, they should enter it again.

  4. Remove the Apple ID from the iPhone:

    • On iOS 10.2 and earlier, tap Sign Out, then tap Delete from My iPhone.
    • On iOS 10.3 and up, tap Turn Off.
  5. Erase the phone again by going to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings.

    Erasing an iPhone
  6. When the phone restarts this time, you shouldn't see the Activation Lock screen.

That's the easy version. The slightly harder version comes when the person whose account you need isn't physically near you. In that case, they need to remove the lock using iCloud, by doing this:

  1. Ask them to go to iCloud.com and sign in with their Apple ID.

  2. Select Find iPhone.

    Find iPhone
  3. Select All Devices, then select the iPhone that needs to be unlocked.

    Select the device under All Devices
  4. Select Erase and then follow any other on-screen prompts.

    The Erase iPhone button
  5. Once the previous owner has removed the phone from their account, restart the iPhone, and you won't see the Activation Lock screen when it starts up.

If You Can't Get the Original Account Used to Activate the Phone

If you don't have a way to log in with the iPhone's original account, you're basically stuck. Activation Lock is a powerful and effective tool and you can't get around it. It's important to make sure used phones are not iCloud-locked before you buy them.

Your one remaining option is to reach out to Apple. If you can provide valid proof of purchase to Apple, the company may be willing to unlock the phone for you. Get a receipt or other proof of purchase, and then contact Apple for tech support to see if they can help.

About Sites Promising to iCloud Unlock My Phone

If you've done any Googling on this topic, you've likely come across dozens of sites and forum posts claiming other companies can bypass iCloud locks. Some may call themselves "official" unlocks. Whatever they say, they're all scams looking to get money for a service they can't provide. The only away around an iCloud lock is the original Apple ID used to activate the phone.

These services claiming to bypass iCloud locks are generally either just looking to take your money, or they may be engaged in an even more complex fraud scheme.

A few services can get around Activation Lock, but in doing so, they break your phone's connection to Apple. You won't be able to update the operating system or activate the phone again after erasing its data, among other limitations. Those are pretty big drawbacks, and it's hard to see how they're worth it.