My locked Apple Watch Edition eBay adventure

eBay is the Wild West of shopping. There are some rules, but mostly its a wasteland of objects and you can call in the Marshall, to continue my terrible pun, if you need to report someone or get your money back. It is not as bad as Craigslist. I generally stay away from both.

However, my desire for a shiny white Apple Watch Edition and my unwillingness to pay $1,350 for a new one, drove me into the world’s largest yard sale, eBay. After purchasing the Apple Watch Edition Series 2, it was a full three weeks before I was able to use it, thanks to the disaster that is Apple Authentication Lock. The saga has me swearing to never order a used Apple device again.

eBay Apple Watch Edition saga

As an Apple tech blogger, I always buy the newest Apple hardware. Thankfully, I am required to buy the latest and greatest so I can keep up with accessories and to speak intelligently about the new gadgets. Otherwise, it might be difficult to justify to the wife! But, there is just something completely crazy about buying an Apple Watch Edition. It is purely for looks and clout. I felt like, if I could find one just a little more expensive than a Sport model, I would go for it… and I did!

After losing an auction to someone for a like-new Apple Watch Series 2 at $630, I found a posting that was also like-new, “only worn several times,” but closed in a week. The images backed up the Seller’s claim that it was flawless. Therefore, I contacted the Seller and we agreed on $650, if she would close the auction and let me buy the watch on demand. Deal!

She shipped me the Apple Watch via guaranteed two-day shipping, arriving on Thursday, February 22. Now, this is when things started to go sideways. This entire article, from now forward, is basically proving my point: beware of buying your devices anywhere but from Apple. Despite guaranteed two-day shipping, it thankfully came in three days, right before I left town for a week. Not that big of a deal, but, the start of a mess.

iCloud Activation Lock

I got the device home and began to set it up with my iPhone. Immediately, I was presented with an Apple Activation Lock screen, which identified the Watch was still locked to m********’s account. My heart sank. Activation Lock prevents your iOS devices from being targeted by thieves. Even if an Apple Watch is reset to factory settings, if the initial user did not log out of the iCloud account, which turns off Find My Apple Watch, then the device is rendered useless.

Thankfully, the Seller was very responsive via text and vowed to resolve the issue. Seller did not even remember she had an email address. Consequently, she could not log onto to remotely remove the device from her account. She didn’t even remember the email address, much less the password. I’m starting to get a little worried, causing me to check the serial number, ensuring the Watch was not reported stolen.

She called Apple Support to see how we can proceed, but since she does not even remember the email address, the first issue is finding the address and associating it with herself. Apple, Seller, and I actually ended up on a three-way phone call at one point, just clarifying the email address was an account. She is told by Apple it will take 24 hours for the account to be re-associated to her, then we should be good.

Saturday, February 24, 24 hours later, she confirms the new iCloud address is now associated to her and she calls Apple back, hoping to get the login information. She is only then informed, there is an iCloud Account Recovery process, which has only started. Apple is able to associate her iCloud address with her current Apple ID, in 24 hours, but there is a full Account Recovery process, which takes two weeks to clear. Again, had she remembered anything, either the email or password, this would not have been a necessary step.

Essentially, Apple sets the account in a recovery mode, that monitors the account for suspicious activity for two full weeks. For example, maybe she is trying to recover someone else’s account. If the account is accessed from a device that is not owned by her, the recovery will fail. It is all about security.

Start the clock again. A full two weeks later, on March 9, she received a clearance from Apple on the Account Recovery. She is provided the full email address and a temporary password to get into and fully reclaim the account. She logs into and then remotely removes the Watch from her account, which should erase the Activation Lock. I then try to re-setup the Watch, but the Activation Lock is still turned on for some reason. That should not be the case. We are stuck again.

The only way for me to clear the Activation Lock screen is for her to text me her Apple ID and Password. Never do this. Do not ever send someone your Apple ID and Password. They can access anything in your account, including contacts, calendars, and even pictures. Despite risking her personal information, she sent me her credentials, so that I could clear the Activation Lock. I was in! Once I went through the setup process, I was able to assign the Watch to my account and it is no longer locked to her iCloud account.

The eBay lesson

There are so many opportunities for this to have all gone wrong. Thankfully, the Seller was amazing to work with and overly trusting of me as the Buyer. Along the way, there were a few times when I felt like I was getting ‘had.’ I would lose my investment, have an Apple Watch paperweight, and just hate myself for taking the risk of buying used Apple products.

There are a few important lessons here, first of which is thinking twice before buying used Apple products. Apple does an incredible job with their security features. Consequently, if the original owner is not logged out correctly, you may just have a brick coming to you in the mail.

Second, make sure to ask the seller if the device has been removed from their Find My (Device) feature via iCloud. If the seller does not fully comprehend that question, I would pass on the purchase.

Third, the device will hopefully be reset to factory defaults. But, with Apple Watches, they can be reset to factory default, but if the user did not sign out of iCloud first, it will Activation-Lock the device, just like the Series 2 that I received in the mail.

I got very, very lucky in this situation. The Seller was very accommodating, answered all of my questions about how she was trying to get this resolved, and even gave me back $250 via PayPal for the trouble! Can you believe that?! So, I’m very happy upgrading from a Series 0 Sport to a Series 2 Edition, for only $400. I “saved” $1,000! But, it was not without cost, headache, and some nightmare scenarios that could have all gone the wrong way.

Next time, I’ll just stick to buying my devices from Apple. And, I’ll keep my tastes to my affordable price range.