Stolen and Lost iPhones Continue To Flood eBay Despite iCloud Lock

Despite Apple’s persistent efforts to curtail incentives for stealing iOS devices, there continues to be a steady stream of iPhones making their way to eBay. These devices have likely been lost or stolen. When Apple introduced iOS 7, they added a much sought after feature to the Find My iPhone service. iPhones and any iOS device that supported iOS 7 could now render a lost or stolen device useless, provided Find My iPhone was enabled. With used iPhones being sold at premiums, they had become attractive targets for thieves. In previous versions of iOS, an iPhone could be restored to its factory default state, making it easy to find a buyer. Despite changes in iOS 7, online marketplaces like eBay and Craigslist continue to allow sales of iCloud locked devices. As of today, eBay has over 1,000 listing for iCloud locked devices. Not only does this line the pockets of possibly unscrupulous individuals, it leaves uninformed buyers with a locked iPhone.

iPhone iCloud lock

One seller describes a 16GB iPhone for AT&T as:

Icloud locked please make sure you understand what’s that before you buy . The phone is in great condition GOOD IMEI esn is clean include all accessories plus waterproof case. Not returns.

For an unsuspecting customer, this may sound like a good deal. After all, it’s being pitched as having a good IMEI and comes with a waterproof case. More users would know that it is impossible to use without the iCloud password (who apparently has the Gmail address q*****@gmail.com), so the perks of a waterproof case here are nil. However, some might think they can use this iPhone, as long as they don’t use iCloud. If it were being sold for $10, that would be suspicious. Priced at $250, it would be easy for a novice user and perhaps first time iPhone owner, to not clearly understand the meaning of an iCloud lock.

Yet another listing describes their AT&T iPhone 5 as having a clean ESN and ‘legitimately bought‘. “It is locked with iCloud and previous owner can’t be contacted.

We’ve had a few people wander into our iPhone forums pretending to be customers who purchased a locked iPhone, claiming they weren’t able to contact the previous owner. It seems incredibly suspicious that most transactions would involve a discussion over phone or email, so this excuse of not being able to contact the previous owner falls short.

This isn’t limited to the iPhone 5. One listing for a Sprint iPhone 5c is slightly less offensive. It describes the iCloud locked phone as be in ‘excellent condition‘ and ‘good for parts‘.

Prices for these auctions vary from $125 to $250. Sales of iCloud locked phones aren’t limited to eBay. There are also numerous listings on Craigslist. Some listings are offering to buy iCloud locked devices. Perhaps these individuals are running the smartphone equivalent of a chop shop. Breaking them down and selling off the parts at a profit.

Earlier this month, Apple was among a group of manufacturers who voiced their support the Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment. It outlines a list of capabilities that include support for remote wipe of data, rendering a smartphone inoperable and preventing activation. While the pact does not take place until July, 2015, Apple is already in compliance. Despite these measures, the aftermarket for lost and stolen iPhones continues to be problematic. The next logical step would be for eBay and other online marketplaces to restrict the sales of iCloud locked iPhones. Until that time, consumers need to be vigilant about not purchasing lost or stolen iPhones.

  • Wayne Williams

    There is no law in recorded history that will prevent the theft and/or resale of stolen property. Please stop trying to make this the intent of what Apple is trying to do. Locking down the phone to prevent illegal use is the intent. You won’t ever stop the theft of property, unless you catch the suspect and kick the shit out of him and send him to the hospital with 25 broken bones and all of his teeth missing. That’s the only way to stop theft. A good beating teaches lessons that laws do not.

    • Christopher Meinck

      What about eBay? If they care about their customers, they should ban the sale of ‘iCloud locked’ phones.

  • Ian

    What he said

  • Will

    There are legitimate reasons. Our store buys and sells iphones. Many times customers FORGET to deactivate the icloud account, and not all customers use their login email as their primary email, making it very difficult to get ahold of them after the sale. Work in a retail environment for a bit and you will see that there are plenty of legitimate reasons why some phones have clean esns but are icloud locked. Not all customers are responsible or even care after they have sold their phone, and employees don’t always care to check to make sure it has been properly deactivated. Once the customer walks away, there’s little to no chance of getting them to help you out. You make the assumption that some people CARE about their stuff, when they don’t. We have customers that change to a new phone every month, some that are just spoiled, and some that are just plain lazy.

    While the ideas of more security seems like a good idea, it’s getting to be like drm. Once it interferes with the customer’s ability to use the device as intended, it will actually encourage more theft and piracy.