Would-be buyers of used Apple devices have a new way to make sure their acquisition wasn’t someone else’s loss through theft. Apple’s new iCloud tool lets users check to see whether the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch they’re considering has been locked by a former owner.
A new feature on iCloud’s Find My iPhone page, the Check Activation Lock Status tool requires a user to type in either the device’s IMEI or serial number. Upon entering that information, a user can learn whether he or she can legitimately activate the device with a new Apple ID.
The tool is just the latest in a series of technology tweaks aimed at reducing smartphone-related crime. And officials across the U.S. and elsewhere are reporting that such efforts appear to be paying off in the form of declining smartphone theft rates.
Valuable Smartphone or Useless ‘Brick’?
Hitting the market this past Sept. 19, Apple’s new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are both powered by the new iOS 8 operating system, which enables the anti-theft Activation Lock system by default. Rolled out in September 2013, Activation Lock allows users to remotely lock devices and render them useless if they are lost or stolen.
Available on Apple devices running iOS 7 and up, Activation Lock requires a valid Apple ID and password before a lost or stolen device can be reactivated. Without that information, iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches that fall into the wrong hands are supposed to become little more than useless “bricks.”
Earlier this year, iClarified reported that some hackers had found a way to bypass Activation Lock and reactivate devices without an Apple ID and password. With Apple’s latest lock checking tool, though, would-be buyers can still find out whether a used device was locked by its previous owner…which would raise red flags about both the device’s origins and potential usability.
Aiming at ‘Apple Picking’
The growing use of smartphones has made the devices an attractive target for thieves, who try to resell them quickly for a fast profit. Apple’s phones have proven to be a particular favorite among such criminals, leading law enforcement officials to name a new crime category, “Apple Picking.”
Faced with many smartphone thefts that included crimes of violence and even murder, a large number of police officials from across the U.S. and even London last year launched an initiative called “Secure Our Smartphones,” or SOS. Led by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, the initiative has urged phonemakers to enable “kill switch” technology that lets users turn off their devices if the devices are lost or stolen. This year, Minnesota and California both adopted laws requiring all smartphones sold in those states to be equipped with kill-switch capabilities, and other states are considering similar measures.
A report issued by the SOS initiative this past summer indicated that thefts of iPhones in New York “fell significantly” after Apple rolled out its Activation Lock. Similar declines were reported in both San Francisco and London.