How to Check If a Used iPad Is Stolen Before You Buy It

Before spending any money on a used iPad, read this guide so you know how to check if it’s stolen or not

By Dave Johnson - Senior Staff Writer
5 Min Read

Buying a used iPad from eBay or Craigslist is a great way to save money. But a second-hand iPad introduces a new set of risks to your purchase. Besides the fact that it could be damaged or locked to a certain network, you also need to be careful you don’t buy a stolen iPad by mistake.

Before spending any money on a used iPad, read this guide so you know how to check if it’s stolen or not. We’ll explain everything you need to do to protect yourself.

The dangers of buying a stolen iPad

Of course, most of us don’t want to buy a stolen iPad because of the moral dilemma it creates. But even if that doesn’t bother you, there are plenty of other reasons a stolen iPad makes for a bad purchase.

Not only do you need to worry about the police eventually knocking at your door and taking the device back—without refunding whatever you paid for it. But security features built into the iPad could make it completely unusable if it was stolen.

Apple’s Activation Lock means you can’t set up an iPad and use it as your own unless the previous owner signed out of their Apple ID account first. That’s not going to happen if the iPad is stolen.

Actually, the previous owner might be using their Apple ID account to track the location of the stolen iPad instead.

Unfortunately, Apple has no means to check if an iPad is stolen or not, since they do not have access to the user’s device as Apple prioritizes security above anything else.

Before you buy a used iPad, read the information below to find out if it’s stolen or not. You should do this even if the seller claims they’re the original owner.

How to check if I used iPad is stolen

Obtain the IMEI number

You should obtain the IMEI or serial number especially if you are buying from an individual seller. Please note that an iPad will have an IMEI number only if it’s a cellular model. Otherwise, most iPads only have a serial number, and don’t have an IMEI number. If you get the IMEI number of the used iPad you plan to buy, you can scan it to make sure the device isn’t reported as stolen.

Contact the seller and ask them to privately send you the IMEI number. This is a perfectly normal request, just explain that you’d like to make sure you can activate the used iPad with your carrier after you purchase it.

If possible, ask the seller to send you a screen recording or a video of them navigating to the IMEI number on the iPad. That way you can be certain they’re giving you the number for the device you plan to buy. Otherwise, they might give you the IMEI number for a different iPad instead.

It’s also harder for them to edit a fake number into a video than it is a photo.

Where to find the IMEI number

  1. Turn the iPad over.

  2. Just underneath where it says "iPad" you’ll find small writing. You may need a magnifying glass to read it. Your serial number will be included there, as well as the IMEI, if it’s an iPad (Wi-Fi cellular model.

Although the IMEI number should be the same wherever the seller gets it from, it’s best for them to get the IMEI from the iPad settings. That way they can’t look at the wrong packaging by mistake.

  1. Open the Settings app.

  2. Go into General.

  3. Select About.

  4. The serial number will be there (and IMEI if you have an iPad (Wi-Fi cellular model.

What if the seller won’t share the IMEI number

If a seller refuses to disclose the IMEI (if it is a cellular model), you may not want to proceed with the sale.

Check the IMEI number is clean

After getting the IMEI number from the seller, you should enter it into multiple websites to find out if the iPad is reported stolen or not. While some of these websites use the same database, others do not. So we recommend you test the IMEI number in each of them. You can use these services:

There is no IMEI number?

If the iPad you are interested in is the Wi-Fi model, you can ask the seller to produce documentation such as a receipt (which is the written record that the seller has bought it) to check if it is stolen or not. We explained previously how you can find receipts for your Apple purchases.

Check Activation Lock

A Stolen iPad is likely to have Activation Lock turned on by the owner. If the iPad asks you for the previous owner’s Apple ID, then the iPad is Activation Locked and you won’t be able to use it.

Meet the seller in person in a safe and public place like a coffee shop with Wi-Fi. Then ask the seller to do these while you are watching:

  • Ask the seller to power on and unlock the iPad.

  • Ask him or her to erase the iPad by going to Settings > General > Transfer or Reset iPad > Erase All Content & Settings.

  • Ensure that the erasing process is complete before you take ownership. If the seller cannot complete this (this will require entering the owner’s Apple ID and password), it is possible that this is a stolen iPad.

  • If you see “Hello” on the screen in various languages, then the iPad is ready to use. Activation Lock will be removed when the iPad is erased.

The best way to buy a used iPad

Before you buy a used iPad, you should take more precautions to protect yourself.

  • If you can make the purchase in person, do that. Do this in a public place to stay safe. When meeting the seller, check the IMEI number for yourself. You should also start the setup process to ensure the iPad isn’t blocked by Activation Lock.

  • If you are buying online, understand the return policy of the seller.

  • Pay for the purchase using PayPal or a credit card instead of cash. That way, there’s a record of the transaction. If you find out at a later date that the iPad was stolen, you need to return it to the police. But your bank may be able to refund your payment.

  • Find out if the seller certifies their preowned devices and what the process entails. You should be able to learn about their certification process and what they inspect.

  • Ensure that the ad has the actual photos instead of stock photos.

  • We’d also recommend trying to obtain proof of purchase and a detailed item description from the seller to act as evidence, just in case. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the seller’s reputation online via reviews and forum posts before committing to a purchase. A quick Google search ahead of time might save you lots of agony after the fact.

  • An abnormally low price may indicate a potentially stolen iPad.

Can blacklist iPad be unlocked?

If your carrier blacklist your iPad by mistake, you can request them to remove it from the list for free. If it is because of outstanding payments, you’ll need to settle the bill to unlock a blacklisted iPad.

If you bought a second hand iPad and the original owner blacklisted the device by reporting it as lost or stolen, then the carrier will be unable to remove or unlock the blacklisted iPad. You can only contact the original owner and request that the bad status be removed or get your money back.

What can I do if I bought a blacklisted iPad

  • Request a refund. If you purchased it on Amazon, they will issue you a refund once you provide proof, even if Amazon was not the seller. If it is a third-party seller or a one-night online e-commerce store, you may not get a refund.
  • If the seller refuses to pay, issue a chargeback to dispute the sale with your credit card issuer if you paid with your credit card.
  • If you purchased this from a seller from a marketplace like Amazon, Etsy, eBay, etc., write a review on the site so others will know.
  • You can also report it to the local police office and file a report.
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By Dave Johnson Senior Staff Writer
Dave Johnson is a staff writer for GeeksChalk based in New Jersey. He covers news, how-tos, and user guides for iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch.
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