How to Unlock iCloud-Locked iPhones

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

Activation Lock on iPhone

Apple

Having an iPhone with an iCloud lock is frustrating because you can't use the phone until it's been unlocked, and unlocking it isn't always easy. Your best bet is to understand what it means to have an iCloud-locked iPhone, understand how to fix this issue, and what to avoid when trying.

What is an iCloud-Locked iPhone?

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

Activation Lock is enabled on devices whenever Find My iPhone is turned on. Once enabled, the iPhone can't be erased, activated on a different account, or have Find My iPhone disabled without entering the Apple ID username and password originally used with the phone.

This is a very effective anti-theft measure because a thief almost certainly won't have the iCloud username and password for the person who's phone they stole; 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 locked and needs the Apple ID username and password used to originally set up the phone.

Are All iCloud-Locked Phones Stolen?

Since Activation Lock was introduced to prevent thefts, you may be wondering if every iCloud locked is stolen. Not necessarily.

It's possible to get enable Activation Lock accidentally. If you forget to turn off Find My iPhone or sign out of iCloud before you erase an iPhone, or if your Apple ID is disabled, you'll get the Activation Lock screen when trying to set it up again. This is somewhat common when buying used iPhones.

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. In the case of the latter, the lock refers to your phone being tied to a single phone company, usually while you're under contract. Any phone can be locked to a phone company; it has nothing to do with Activation Lock, iCloud, or stolen phones. To learn more, check out Understanding The Difference Between Unlocking and Jailbreaking.

How to Unlock an iCloud-Locked iPhone

There's only one way to unlock iCloud-locked phones. As mentioned above, Activation Lock is an extremely effective security tool. You either have the information to unlock it or you don't.

If you see the Activation Lock screen on the iPhone you're trying to activate, simply enter the Apple ID username and password used to initially activate the phone and your problem is solved. If you forgot your Apple ID, 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. Just tap Unlock with Passcode, tap Use Device Passcode, then enter the passcode.

Things get more complex, though, when the username and password aren't yours, such as if you've 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 account Apple ID 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.
  3. When asked for their Apple ID username and password, they should enter it again.

  4. 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.

  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 is needed isn't physically near you. In that case, they need to remove the lock using iCloud.

  1. Ask them to go to iCloud.com and sign in with the username and password used to activate the iPhone.

  2. Select Find My iPhone.

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

  4. Select Erase iPhone.

  5. Select Remove from Account.

  6. Once the phone has been removed from their account, you can 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 original account used to activate the iPhone, you're basically stuck. Activation Lock is a powerful and effective tool and there's really no easy way around it. That's why it's so 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, 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 there are companies that can bypass iCloud locks. Some may call themselves "official" unlocks, but they're basically all scams looking to take your money for a service they can't provide.

Those services are generally either just looking to take your money or they may be engaged in an even more complex fraud scheme.

There are a few services that can get around Activation Lock, but in doing so, they break your phone's connection to Apple, which means 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.