How to Avoid Buying a Stolen Phone

By: Absolute Team | 10/6/2013

If you are in the market for a second-hand phone, you probably don't want to end up with a stolen device. Although there is no perfect solution to protect you from purchasing a stolen device, you should still do as much leg work as you can to protect your purchase.

Verify the IMEI isn't Stolen

Some countries and carriers offer the ability to search an IMEI to see if it has been reported as stolen. These searches are not always free and you run the chance of the device being reported stolen after your purchase.

To find the IMEI number on most phones, go to the dial screen on the phone and type in *#06# and the number will be displayed. Alternatively, most devices have the IMEI internally behind the battery or on the SIM card slot. Newer model iPhones have the IMEI engraved on the back case.

  1. Canada - check the status of an IMEI for free at
  2. US - no central database exists to check IMEI numbers.
    • T-Mobile's IMEI status check verifies if an IMEI for a T-Mobile network phone has been reported as stolen. Does not verify status of other network devices (as far as we can tell).
  3. UK - check the status of an IMEI for a fee at CheckMend
  4. Australia - check the status of an IMEI for free at the Lost & Stolen site. Works for Optus, Virgin, 3 Three, Vodafone, Telstra devices.

How to Add Your Stolen Phone to the Blacklist

If your device has been lost or stolen, contact your service provider to report the theft. It is up to the service provider to add your device to the blacklist. As always, you should always contact local police post-theft as well. Read our post-theft best practices here.

Signs the Phone May Be Stolen

If you are purchasing a mobile phone outside of the dealers, you'll want to be sure the phone is not stolen. Purchasing used cell phones from reputable dealers (pawn shops, etc) gives you some measure of protection, but many people choose to buy used devices from online classifieds such as Craigslist and eBay. Many of these sites come with the risk that the information provided is not authentic and you run the risk of completing the transaction only to end up with a stolen device - perhaps even one that has been shut down through new kill switch technology.

So, what can you do to protect yourself when buying a used phone? Here are some red flags that could indicate the device is stolen:

  • The price seems too good to be true based on the market value
  • The seller is willing to drop the price by a significant amount when you try to bargain
  • The seller appears nervous and rushed to complete the deal
  • The seller is unable to easily answer questions on the specifics of the device
  • Cash, always cash only deal
  • The seller delivers a "hard luck" story to accompany the offer to sell
  • The device does not come with standard accessories (charger, etc)

During the sale process, don't be shy to ask questions such as whether they have the original packaging or proof of purchase, whether they will provide a written purchase receipt, or whether they will provide you with the IMEI prior to sale so you can verify the phone is not stolen.

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