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Chapter 4: Is the Phone Stolen? – Why it Matters

When buying a used phone, one of your biggest questions will be: How can I find out if a phone is stolen? For obvious reasons, you don’t want to purchase stolen goods.

Why run a stolen phone check, you ask?

Stolen phones can be tracked through the IMEI number, serial number or registration account — and if the police show up at your door, they’re going to think you stole it. Even if they don’t accuse you, they will more than likely confiscate the stolen device, and you’ll be out the money you paid.

So, wondering “is my phone stolen,” and knowing how to check IMEI stolen status, is certainly warranted. Luckily, there are a few ways you can check if a phone is stolen or not. More particularly, you can use any number of free online tools to use the IMEI and look up stolen status.

How to Find out If a Phone Is Stolen?

How can I check if a mobile phone is stolen?

There are tools you can use to check the ESN or IMEI numbers of a phone to find out whether or not it’s clean. This is essentially the serial number of a smartphone or cell phone. Any time it’s activated on a service, this information is registered to the device’s serial number.

How to Check the Phone

The first thing you’ll want to do is look up the phone’s IMEI or ESN numbers to check whether or not it’s stolen. Most sites like Swappa allow you to look at this information before even making a purchase. There are providers, like Glyde and Amazon, that do not offer this information. However, Glyde will hold the seller’s payment in escrow until the buyer has received the device and checked it.

To check the ESN, IMEI or MEID, you can use this free online tool from Check ESN Free.

If you have an iPhone, there’s another option you can use as well. As part of the new iCloud security features, Apple introduced an activation lock tool that allows you to check whether or not the device you have is stolen. You can do that here, and it merely requires you to submit the IMEI or Apple serial number.

Also, if you happen to have the serial number for an iPhone you’re going to purchase, you can check warranty information, too. Just follow the prompts to enter the necessary info and see the remaining coverage, if there is any.

Know the Return Policies and Process

If you think the phone is legit, go ahead and buy it — but you’ll want to get yourself familiarized with the return policies for the seller you’re using. Going through Amazon or eBay? Make sure you read more about the buyer’s protection they offer and how long you have to return the product or file a claim if you find something wrong when it gets to you.

If you’re buying from somewhere like Craigslist, through private sellers directly, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a refund or a return if something is wrong. Be absolutely sure everything is okay before you hand over your cash.

What Are the Safe Places to Buy From?

In the end, the best way to ensure you’re not buying a stolen device is to acquire it from a reputable source or marketplace. Then, you don’t even have to worry how to find out if a phone is stolen or not.

While Amazon, eBay and Craigslist may have some of the cheapest deals for used goods, they’re also more susceptible to problems such as this. Amazon and eBay at least have safeguards in place to protect buyers if they purchase stolen goods. Craigslist, on the other hand, is a classifieds site, and that means you handle any and all transactions at your own risk.

When you’re buying a used smartphone, using a platform like The Whiz Cells is much safer. We screen the devices that come in. We automatically check for proper ownership and track serial numbers and purchase information.

When you buy a used product from a provider like us, you can be sure it’s a legit sale. The Whiz Cells actually turns over lost or stolen goods to law enforcement.

Another way to be sure you’re buying products on the up-and-up is to go through wireless carriers directly. Companies like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile sell certified refurbished phones in addition to brand new ones. You’ll just pay a lot more money than if you were to go through a third-party seller, so keep that in mind.

What Places Should I Stay Away From?

On the other hand, there are places you should steer clear of when buying a used smartphone.

On Amazon, and elsewhere online, you can find many extremely cheap Chinese manufacturers that sell generic phones for ridiculously low prices. In many cases, they seem too good to be true. Don’t fall into a trap and spend your hard-earned money on such electronics.

Yes, it is possible to purchase good-quality, cheap devices from China — particularly generic models. Companies like Chuwi, Huawei, Xiaomi and more are okay to buy from. We still wouldn’t recommend doing so for one reason, though. Because these devices take so long to ship — if you’re buying in the US — the claims and return process can be extremely complicated.

In addition, cheap Chinese phones have been known to house harmful malware and spyware, which can collect sensitive personal data for unscrupulous parties. The data is sent remotely, allowing someone to steal your identity, credit card information or worse.

This is a worst case scenario we’re talking about, of course. Many people purchase goods from Chinese manufacturers with no issues. But, again, we just wouldn’t recommend doing it.

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