Buying used electronics has always been tricky. On the one hand, the prices are lower and platforms like Craigslist make shopping a breeze. On the other hand, you run the risk of buying a device that doesn't work perfectly. And then there's always the chance you could end up giving money to a thief -- a risk that's especially acute when purchasing a used iPhone. A full half of robberies in San Francisco were smartphone related, and similar patterns have emerged in other major cities.
Luckily for honest buyers, and anyone who doesn't want their own iDevice nabbed, Apple has a released a tool to identify whether or not a given iPhone, iPad, or other iOS device is stolen. The website, which does not require a login, asks users to enter the serial number of their prospective purchase, and will then reveal whether the phone in question has an activation lock in place. If it does, that means either that the phone was stolen or the person selling it hasn't correctly reset their device. Either way, it's not a phone you want to buy.
The activation lock is relatively new to iOS, and works by preventing anyone from resetting an iPhone without the owner's Apple ID and password. The feature was introduced in iOS 7 and turned on automatically in iOS 8, making it harder for criminals to sell their ill-gotten merchandise. PC World notes San Francisco iPhone thefts dropped by 38% in the six months after activation lock first launched.
However, hackers have recently succeeded in circumventing the lock, making it more likely that second-hand shoppers could accidently end up with a pilfered product. Now, when you see a deal that looks too good (or too shady) to be true, you'll be able to confirm those suspicions.