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How to Tell If a 'Used' Phone Is Stolen, and Why You Should Care

Stolen Phone 

Buying a used phone can be a good way to obtain a fairly recent model without shelling out the big bucks you'd need when a brand new phone is released. However, it can also be a tricky proposition - some used phones may actually be stolen, which raises moral questions and could eventually cause the phone to stop working after you purchase it.

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Here is a look at the negative effects owning a stolen phone can have, along with some tips to avoid buying one in the first place.

Consequences of a Stolen Phone

Those who obtain and/or use stolen phones most likely understand the potential risks, but that may not be true for someone who unwittingly buys a stolen cell phone they simply think is a used model.

To start with, using a stolen cell phone could cause you to unknowingly commit cell phone fraud. Many used cell phones are cloned, which means they've been programmed to use the electronic serial number (ESN) and phone number (MIN) of a separate and legitimate phone.

When a stolen phone is cloned, carriers aren't able to tell the difference between the cloned phone and the legitimate one, which could then cause the legitimate customer to be billed for the calls and usage of the stolen/cloned phone.

Additionally, if a phone's international mobile station equipment identity (IMEI) or ESN is flagged as stolen or fraudulent, the phone can be blocked and unusable.

To avoid buying a stolen phone, here are four quick tips.

1. Check the Numbers

One of the first things you should do to see if a phone is stolen is to check out its IMEI and ESN numbers. You can do this through a number of third-party services that even top-notch resellers use.

Travis May, owner of electronics recycling and reselling company The Whiz Cells, says that his teams check several resources to make sure all used phones sold to The Whiz Cells are neither lost nor stolen:

"We use several platforms when verifying that a phone hasn't been stolen or reported as lost. CheckESNFree is a good first check, but we also like to get a CheckMEND report and always follow up with the wireless carrier directly. Because we run all three of these checks, we can be sure that we're selling a clean, legitimate used phone to our customers."

If you're only interested in running one check on a potential purchase, CheckESNFree is easy to use; you just have to have your ad blocker disabled for the site.

2. Buy Into a Contract

Another option to avoid buying a stolen phone is to buy into someone else's contract with their carrier. This allows the original user to get out of their contract without early termination fees, and it gives you a relatively short contract and an up-to-date phone.

A number of services, such as CellSwapper and CellTradeUSA, can help with this process.

3. Use the Phone's Lock Feature

These days, there are technologies in place that allow users to determine whether a phone has been reported stolen or not.

As an example, for Apple products (iPhone, etc.) you can go to the Activation Lock page on iCloud and enter the device's IMEI or serial number, which will give you an idea of the status of the phone.

That said, the method isn't foolproof. As Wired magazine notes, Activation Lock is a form of software, and most people with any amount of tech savviness can tell you that just about any software can be breached.

Also, Activation Lock (and other services like it) is a form of a "kill switch," which are ineffective against stolen phones that are shipped overseas immediately to be equipped with new SIM cards.

4. Use Your Intuition

Buying a used phone is no different than buying any other used product - you should always go into a potential transaction with a "buyer beware" mentality. If something seems shady or too good to be true, it most likely is.

Using common sense and a combination of the above tips should help you find a perfectly legal used phone that isn't stolen. If you have any additional tips for ruling out stolen phones when trying to buy used, share them in the comments section below!


About the Author

Kayla Matthews is a tech-loving blogger who writes and edits Follow her on Twitter to read all of her latest posts!

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Published Thursday, June 23, 2016 6:55 AM by David Marshall
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