Most people have dabbled into the used cell phone market, whether they realize it or not. Ebay, Craigslist, and even phone recycling programs feed the 17 billion dollar used phone industry.It’s no surprise then, that stealing cell phones for resale is big business. In 2014, thieves stole 2.1 million cell phones in the U.S. alone.That number has actually been declining, thanks in part to upgraded cell phone security systems like Apple’s Find My iPhone and iCloud lock.Though even with the decline in theft, consumers are still at risk of buying a stolen cell phone. Taking the correct precautions to ensure your phone isn’t stolen is paramount.Luckily, anyone can easily identify a stolen cell phone through its IMEI number. We’re breaking down the how and why you need to check the IMEI blacklist before you purchase your next used phone.
IMEI is an acronym for International Mobile Equipment Identity. The numbers assign a unique identity to every mobile phone.Currently, every newly assigned IMEI number is a 15 digit decimal string. This could change depending on the manufacture date of the phone you’re purchasing. Older phones will have shorter IMEI numbers.The modern application of IMEI numbers is blacklisting and tracking stolen cell phones. Each cell phone company keeps a log of every IMEI number activated on their network. Any phone reported stolen to the company becomes unusable.Police use IMEI numbers for similar purposes. A stolen phone report will ask for an IMEI number. With only one unique number string per phone, it’s easy to identify stolen mobile devices with 100 percent accuracy.Remember that all cellular enabled devices have an IMEI number. Any device capable of connecting to a cellular network, even if it hasn’t in the past, will use IMEI for identification.
A phone’s IMEI number is independent from its SIM card. Stolen cell phones are often sold without a SIM card, and any person can buy a new SIM. However, changing an IMEI number is more difficult.In fact, changing an IMEI number is actually illegal in some countries. In the United States the legality is murky. The FCC states that changing an IMEI or ESN number (ESNs are older versions of IMEI numbers) is likely to indicate fraud.Do not buy the handset if a seller indicates a phone’s IMEI was changed.
IMEI numbers are usually located in several different places that vary based on your device manufacturer.The first place to look is the back of your phone. This is where to locate 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 the best 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. This process requires calling your cellular provider, or using their online IMEI checker. 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 second hand online cell phone markets even provide free IMEI checkers on their websites. Swappa, a popular used electronics marketplace, provides free comprehensive IMEI checking.However, the only foolproof way to check validity of an IMEI number is calling your local cell phone carriers.Make sure to inquire about Central Equipment Identity Register compliance. The CEIR is an international database of IMEI numbers used to block stolen devices from accessing cellular networks across carriers.If there is any comprehensive way to check the IMEI blacklist, the CEIR is your best option.Increased carrier communication and stringent IMEI regulations have helped reduce the chance of buying stolen mobile devices, even if the used phone market comes with some risk.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!