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The Easy Way To Make Sure a Used Phone Wasn't Stolen

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  RachelBone's Photo
Posted Dec 09 2013 09:08 AM

Buying a used phone can often be a great alternative compared to buying it new from the shop. The good thing is that with more and more people always buying the latest handset every time there is a new release, it’s quite easy to find phones that aren’t that heavily used. The flip side is that you don’t know exactly what you are getting.

Whenever you decide to go for a second hand phone, you better be cautious to avoid ending up with a counterfeit, stolen or unworthy product.

So, what should you do in order to reduce the risk of getting ripped off?

Make sure the phone isn’t stolen – Where do I start?

Every phone, no matter how old or new it is, has an IMEI Number (International Mobile Equipment Identity Number), a MEID (Mobile Equipment Identifier), and ESN (Electronic Serial Number). These numbers are how carriers register the handsets in their network databases, and each number combination is always unique and refers to one single phone. In general, carriers, police and insurance companies use these numbers to track the device and check if it has been stolen or has any other remarks, all of which can block the device from being activated.

If an owner reports his phone as stolen, the IMEI/MEID/ESN is added to a blacklist, which can be accessed by network carriers, police, insurance companies and other industry players. The result is often that the reported phone is blocked on the networks, which means it can’t be used for transmitting voice or data.

So, to check the status of the phone you’re thinking of buying, you’ll need the phone’s IMEI (for GSM networks like AT&T or T-Mobile) or MEID or ESN (for CDMA networks like Sprint, Verizon, or Cricket).

Let’s get started.

1. How do I find the IMEI/MEID?

There are several ways to do that, let’s have a look at the easiest ones.

  • Keypad Method – Most phones have a very simple key-in method to retrieve IMEI/MEID numbers. Just enter on the keypad *#06# and you’ll immediately get the number on your screen. Just remember that not every carrier allows you to do that.
  • Battery Method – If you’re phone is not an all-in-one body (like the iPhones), then you’ll be able to take out the battery after turning off the device. At this point just look in the empty battery slot for a white label noting the IMEI. It should be 15 or 17 digits, but only the first 15 digits are actually needed.
  • If you have an iPhone – Go to Settings and scroll down to General and tap that one. Look for the About field and then tap on that too. All you need to do now, is just to scroll down among the information listed until you see MEID field, on the right you can notice a 14-digit number.
  • If you have an Android device – From the home screen tap on your Menu and go to Settings, look for About Phone and then Status. At this point your IMEI will be located on the resulting screen.


2. What should I do once I have the IMEI/MEID?

Before buying and once you have the phone’s IMEI/MEID, you want to get the ultimate confirmation from the carrier that the phone is clear, so that it has not been reported as lost or stolen, blocked from activation, or that it is active on someone else’s account. Now, this step normally takes a little bit of time depending on how active your carrier is in responding to support enquiries. Instead, we suggest that you first:

As a first reference, do an online lookup. Get the list of sites providing the service for free on Unioncy - The leading device management platform.

If the online check is cleared, call your carrier to get the definitive say before you proceed to buy the device. (Note: It is fair to assume you’ll need a pinch of patience.)

If the phone is confirmed with a clean IMEI/MEID/ESN, then you should just make sure that you’re buying something that does what it is supposed to do and matches the description by the buyer. Here are some pointers:

  • Is the screen free of scratches, cracks or damage?
  • Are there any dead spots or non-responding points on the screen?
  • Does the phone’s power/sleep button work normally?
  • Does the phone power on when plugged in? Does it work when connected to a USB charger?
  • Does the phone connect to WiFi?
  • Does the camera work? Are you able to take picture o shoot video?
  • Does the headphone jack work?
  • Does it have any problems when you make a call? (Call a friend and test)


3. What if the phone I bought has a “bad” IMEI/MEID/ESN? What can I do?

If it turns out the phone you already purchased has a blacklisted IMEI/MEID/ESN by your carrier, then unfortunately it will be unusable on the network. The first thing you should try to do is to contact the person that sold you the device. If the problem is that the phone is still active on the owner’s account, and he’s the rightful owner, ask them to remove the phone from their account. If he can’t prove that he’s the rightful owner, you should ask for a full refund and report the case to the police.

It won’t take that long to go through these checks and it’s better to check as much as possible before you jump the gun and make your purchase. In the world of local sellers, if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

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