If you’re looking to buy a used iPhone, iPad or iPod touch device, Apple is now offering an online tool to let you first check if it’s been locked down by the previous owner, which could indicate that it was actually stolen or lost.
The service is available on the iCloud website and doesn’t require authentication. It allows users to input the IMEI (International Mobile Station Equipment Identity) or serial number of any iOS device to see its Activation Lock status.
Activation Lock is a feature first introduced in iOS 7 as part of the Find My iPhone service on iCloud. Once it is turned on, the device is locked down and the user needs to input the Apple ID and password associated with it in order to be able to use it again.
At least that’s how it’s supposed to work, but hackers figured out a way to bypass the locking mechanism by tricking locked devices into using an alternative iCloud server.
Apple’s new online tool could help prospective buyers determine if the device was stolen or lost even if it was unlocked with unofficial tools, because the IMEI/Serial Number check is done against Apple’s real Activation Lock database.
Activation Lock was optional in iOS 7, but Apple turned it on by default in iOS 8. Legislation passed in California this year requires all new phones sold in the state from July 2015 to have a kill-switch function.
Data from law enforcement agencies suggests that Activation Lock might have had a deterrent effect for phone theft. In San Francisco thefts of iPhones dropped by 38 percent in the first six months after iOS 7 and Activation Lock were launched in September 2013. In New York City the number of similar incidents dropped by 19 percent in the first five months of this year.