Purchasing an iPhone from a third-party seller can save you a substantial amount of money on the purchase, but it also comes with a risk since you may inadvertently purchase a stolen phone. Every iPhone comes with a unique identifier that can help you to locate the carrier and check the registration history of the device. You can check the ESN, IMEI or MEID number to see if the carrier placed the device on a blacklist for lost or stolen iPhones.

  • Locate the IMEI, MEID or ESN number for the iPhone by tapping the “Settings” app, selecting “General” and choosing the “About” option. Locate the number and write it down.
  • Enter the IMEI, MEID or ESN number in a website devoted to checking for lost or stolen iPhones. One good website for checking this information is Swappa. This option may not always uncover a lost or stolen iPhone if the original owner didn’t yet report a lost or stolen device to their carrier. If the iPhone shows up as stolen, you should report the seller to the authorities.
  • Contact your new carrier by phone to ensure that they can activate the iPhone on their network. During the process, they can also double-check and verify the authenticity of the device.

Major carriers that provide the option to unlock your iPhone include Rogers, Telus, and Bell. However, other carriers may also provide the option to unlock an iPhone as well. A locked iPhone may indicate that the seller does not have the authority to unlock the iPhone. Ask the seller to verify the status of the iPhone, and call your carrier before purchasing the device to ensure that you purchase an unlocked iPhone.

If you already purchased an iPhone from a seller and the seller can’t unlock the iPhone, ask for a full refund for the device. If the seller refuses to refund the iPhone, file a police report to list the iPhone as stolen and report the seller.

Some sellers give out fake IMEI, MEID or ESN information. When possible, ask the seller to let you check the information yourself before buying a used iPhone. This way you can check with the carrier to see that the original owner unlocked the iPhone before purchasing the device. Unlocking refers to the process involved in making an iPhone available for use with another carrier. Finally, make sure to purchase the right iPhone model for your carrier. Carriers may use CDMA, GSM or LTE network protocols to broadcast cellular signals.