Buying A Used iPhone? Check Activation Lock First

Sometimes, buying a used iPhone can be your only option.  Say your device is lost or stolen, to replace the device through Apple would require you to pay full retail price, which can be quite hefty.  If you have the device, it’s a different story, as you can purchase a replacement device at a discounted rate, and even cheaper if you have Applecare +.  However, sans the device, your only option would be to pay full retail.  Therefore, buying a used device can be an option for a lost or stolen device, especially if you’re months or more than a year from being eligible for a carrier subsidy.


There are a number of ways to obtain used devices… buying from a friend, auction sites, reseller sites, etc.  There is a level of risk buying used devices, as sometimes, the device you receive may not live up to the post you read online.  However, there are a number of reputable reseller sites where you’re not buying from an individual seller, but from the site themselves who bought the device from someone and resells.  These sites are generally your best bet because they have clearly stated return policies and guarantees.  Avoid craigslist at all costs, as craigslist bears no responsibility at all for items sold, and all the risk is yours.  However, this article isn’t about where to get the best deal, or who to buy from, that’s your due diligence to perform, so do your homework before you buy a device.

That said, there’s one more thing you should look at before buying a used iPhone (or any iOS device for that matter, iPod touch or iPad).  And that’s Activation Lock.  Laws are coming down the pike soon stating that devices need to be manufactured with some sort of “kill switch”, and Apple has lead the way with Activation Lock.

What is Activation Lock?activation-lock-130611

Per Apple’s website:

When you enable Find My iPhone on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, your Apple ID is securely stored on Apple’s activation servers and linked to your device. From that point on, your password will be required before anyone can turn off Find My iPhone on your device, erase your device, or reactivate and use your device.  Activation Lock is enabled automatically when you use Find My iPhone on a device using iOS 7 or later.

So, if one enable’s activation lock, you cannot activate an iPhone without the Apple ID and Apple ID password that it was locked with.  If you buy a used device from an individual user, you have to go back to that user, and they need to either sign out from the device itself, or from from a computer before that device can be activated.  This can be a real pain if the seller is someone on craigslist or eBay, you have to contact them and get them to turn off activation lock.  Sometimes these people are resellers and may not even have that information at all, or the seller is selling a stolen device, and they don’t have the information either.

In these cases, you can be out of luck, because if you cannot find the previous user to unlock the device, you’ve got an expensive paperweight.  Apple will not unlock the device, nor will they contact the previous owner, or direct you to them.  In some cases, they may not even have that information if the buyer hasn’t registered the device, and it’s not typical for businesses to hand out customer information to other customers, in most cases it’s illegal, so don’t expect Apple to be able to help you because legally they cannot.  They also won’t unlock the device for you, because if it’s stolen, it would simply defeat the purpose of Activation Lock.  A thief steals an iPhone, can’t activate it, calls Apple, and they unlock it for them?  Nope, not going to happen.  It can’t.  Any company worth it’s salt that builds security into a device cannot and will not deactivate a security feature.  Ever.

With that said, some things to consider:

  If you’re selling or giving away an iOS device:

Sign out of the iTunes and App Store

Sign out of iCloud (this will deactivate the Activation Lock)

Sign out of iMessage

Sign out of FaceTime

De-register your number from iMessage if you’re moving to a non-iOS device (This step not necessary if you’re getting another iPhone)

At that point, you generally would want to restore the device as new and wipe any info from it, and it’s ready to sell or give away.

  If you’re looking to buy a used iOS device:

  Obtain either the serial number or IMEI/MEID number from the device and see if Activation Lock is on, if it is, have the seller sign out, and test again until the website indicates the Activation Lock is disabled, or move on.

Buy only from a reseller that has a return policy and/or guarantee, or a trusted friend, or at the very least, be able to see and examine and test out if possible to ensure you’re not buying a device with defects and lives up to your expectations of wActivation-Lock-mainhat you expect to receive for what you pay.

Remember, if it looks like too good of a deal, it probably is.