Nobody wants to risk buying a stolen item. Even if you leave aside the morality issue, buying stolen devices creates a market for further thefts. And with iPhones, a stolen device will be rendered useless by a combination of Activation Lock and blocks by carriers.

Wireless trade body CTIA has now created a free online tool to allow anyone to instantly check whether a phone is registered as lost or stolen …

All you need to perform the check is the IMEI number, which is printed on the back of some iPhones, and can otherwise be found in Settings > General > About and scrolling down to IMEI. The CTIA says that the service is intended as the ‘definitive’ source of the status of a device.

The service provides the wireless industry with the definitive, single source of real-time lost or stolen mobile device data. Using multiple source databases, the Stolen Phone Checker helps consumers, commercial organizations and law enforcement agencies in the US to know if a mobile device has been reported lost or stolen. This information is useful to anyone thinking of buying a used mobile device; simply check before you buy at

Consumers can check up to five phones per day, while law enforcement agencies get unlimited access.

The CTIA also provides guidance on protecting against theft, and what to do if your phone is lost or stolen. You can access the service here.

A thief was last month caught with 100 stolen phones at the Coachella festival, thanks to Find My iPhone. Apple uses additional protections for its display devices, which are no longer tethered in the new store designs.

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