With 310 million smartphone users as of 2023, it’s no surprise that stealing cell phones for resale is big business. Around 70 million smartphones are “lost” each year, with only 7% found. With such high numbers of stolen phones, consumers are still at risk of buying one.
Lucky for you, it’s easy to identify a stolen mobile phone through an IMEI check. We’ll break down how and why you need to do an IMEI check for blacklisting before you purchase your next used phone.
IMEI stands for International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI). It is a unique number assigned to the mobile device. This 15-to-17-digit number helps identify a cellular-enabled device on a mobile network. It holds important information such as what kind of phone it is and where it was manufactured. Learn more about IMEIs in our blog, What is IMEI and Other Curious Mobile Lingo.
A phone’s IMEI number is independent of its SIM card. A SIM card, or Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) is a portable card that's main function is to connect to your carrier’s wireless network. It also holds your phone number, address book, settings, and text messages. Stolen cell phones are often sold without a SIM card, and anyone can buy a new SIM. However, changing an IMEI number is more complicated. In fact, changing an IMEI number is prohibited by the FCC and is punishable with fines.
The first step to an IMEI check is to find your mobile phone’s IMEI number. They are usually located in several places that vary based on your device manufacturer. Whether you have an Apple or an Android device, one of the easiest ways to find it is to dial *#06#, and your IMEI number will pop up on the screen.
You can also check the back of your phone. This is where you can find iPhone IMEI numbers, as well as the IMEI of many Android phones. Phones with removable back casings might have the IMEI number printed underneath their battery. Most smartphones also have their IMEI number listed in the device settings. The “About Phone” menu is a good place to start checking for an IMEI number.
If by luck, your used phone comes in the original packaging, the IMEI is usually printed somewhere on the box. Always verify the number on the box with the number printed on the phone or in the phone settings. Mismatching IMEI numbers indicates deceit by the seller.
The easiest way to verify your IMEI number is to check the IMEI blacklist. The most foolproof option is to call your carrier and verify the IMEI number with them. Or check online on these free websites: IMEI Pro or IMEI 24.
Any phone reported stolen will show up on the blacklist. Always ask for the IMEI number and previous cell phone company before buying a used phone. Any seller unwilling to provide that information is hiding something, and it’s more than likely a stolen device. Some secondhand online cell phone markets even provide free IMEI checkers on their websites. Swappa, a popular used electronics marketplace, provides free comprehensive IMEI checking.
Mobile phone resellers such as Swappa, Ebay, and BackMarket are partnered with Phonecheck to verify the validity of used mobile phones. In fact, Swappa displays the Phonecheck badge on Enterprise and Power Seller listings with devices that have undergone Phonecheck’s comprehensive checks, certified diagnostics, and erasure.
Exercise common sense, check the phone’s IMEI number, and ensure the device’s overall condition before buying your next used device. Stick to these precautions and enjoy your new mobile phone. It has never been safer and easier to shop on the used phone market!