How to check for Activation Lock before buying a used iPhone

By , Aug 12, 2014

Activate iPhone

Activation Lock is a great feature coming with every iOS device that has Find My iPhone enabled. This security feature prevents anyone from activating your phone without having access to your Apple ID or password in case they found or stole your device.

Even though they might not be able to activate the lost or stolen device, they might still try to put it up for sale, and if you don’t know what to look for, you might very well be buying an iPhone that has been locked and cannot be activated.

In this post, we will show you what to check when buying a used iPhone or iPad from a third party.

Make sure you have a look at the Lock screen

If the device has been remotely erased or put in Lost Mode by its previous owner, it is very likely that a message will be showed on the Lock screen, warning that this device was lost or stolen. If you see such a message, it should raise some flags, but don’t be alarmed quite yet, as the seller could have put the device in this state. You’ll be able to verify that in the next steps.

If there is a passcode on the device, ask the seller to type in his passcode, then proceed to step 2.

Have the seller reset the device in front of you

If this person is selling the device, then he shouldn’t have any problem agreeing to perform a complete reset. Ask the seller to go to Settings > General > Reset >Erase All Content and Settings. If the seller uses Find My iPhone, he will have to enter his Apple ID password to confirm the erase.

iPhone being restored

The erase process should take a couple minutes or so. During that time, the device’s screen will show the Apple logo and a progress bar. Wait for the reset to be completed.

If the seller doesn’t want to reset the device or is making excuses for it, then walk away.

Begin the device set up

Once the device has been reset, start going through the set up. You will have to choose the language, country, and a Wi-Fi network. At this point, you will be asked to enter your Apple ID and password. If that’s the case, then you’re safe to buy the device.

However, if you see a message asking for the previous owner’s Apple ID and password, or a message saying this device was lost and erased (similar to the screenshot below), then you know something is wrong. Ask the seller to enter his Apple ID and password. If he’s unable to get past this screen, then just walk away as this is a clear sign this device was either found or stolen.

Activation Lock screen

Walk away if you don’t feel it

A serious and honest seller would have no problem going through the steps described above. If at any point in time the seller looks or acts suspicious, of if he is making excuses for not wanting to perform some of the steps we just went over, then there clearly is something fishy going on.

Do not take “no” or “I can’t remember my password” for an answer. These are big red flags that the device has most likely been found or stolen. If that’s the case, just walk away.

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  • Martin

    Thanks for those tips. i honestly wouldn’t have thought of that. Great post!

  • JustReboot

    What about tips for buying a used iPhone online? Obviously harder as the phone is not in front of you (personally, I have used swappa in the past, without issues). I’m just looking out for other folks who may be in this situation.

    • Buy with a credit card or PayPal this way you should be protected if the item is not as described.

  • solai

    Even can find in setting iCloud
    If not signed in then it’s activation unlocked

    • tuma

      not all the time. don’t fall for that trick

  • craig

    people who moan about this because they already know these steps good for you, i know these also but its nice to remind people or put it out there for people who may not know these things.

  • Would it not be quicker to have them unlock it then go into the iCloud settings & disable the “Find My iPhone” feature which would will require them to enter the associated iCloud password?

    • Yes it would. That’s actually what they ask you to do at the Apple Store when you return/exchange an iOS device.

      With the steps I described above, you are sure that not only the device isn’t tied to any Apple ID anymore, but all its data has been erased.

      • Mr.Coolfreak

        with the recent icloud bypass, a user can bypass the lock and input their own icloud in the settings. the user can simply go online in front of the apple employee and turn off find my iphone. however, the trouble comes when the genius will remove the sim, this will cause the device to go back to the activation screen.

      • Jonathan

        That was only 7.0 – 7.0.6.

  • I buy an iPhone 5S online, and works fine the first 3 days, not is locked and the guy who sell me the phone is asking me $300 USD for unlock the device, in other words he’s kidnapping the iPhone, so now I don’t know what to do.

    • Call the police. If you have proof of purchase you can show them and tell them that your device is being held against your will for extortion…

  • Jonathan

    Good post. Just a thought, wouldn’t it be easier to simply ask him to turn off Find my iPhone in settings, then buy the device? He/she won’t be able to lock it if they didn’t wipe it clean before they gave it to you, and it’s just much faster. 🙂

  • Alway Still

    What if the phone is unlocked, but lost. However, it was restored through recovery mode on iTunes.. is it possible that the lost/found phone displays the warning message? I am not sure in this case.

    • Arjan Vlek

      The phone checks online if it is still on lost mode. After Recovery or DFU restore, it will still show the message. The only “working” hack is to jailbreaak the device (iPhone 4 ONLY) using command line tools and remove /Applications/Setup.app, but you can’t call or receive push notifications on it because it is not activated. This method is also against the law.

  • (JailbreakQA) King Shoot

    Just buy from Apple

  • iMcJaz

    Thanks for this! looking to buy a second-hand iPad tomorrow!

  • Muhammad Hamza Sarwar

    Thannks for TIps really helpfull. Now i can buy iphone myself but i will go with expert friend Thanks =)

  • HaRsha AbeGunasekara

    Thanks for the tips

  • Papp Eva

    The most reliable unlocking site I’ve ever use for AT&T devices is att-iphoneunlocking, never needed us over 6 hours to fully unlock some of my stuff, we have the capability to unlock the manufacturer new 6 and 6PLUS as well.