eBay is (still) one of the most popular online marketplaces to buy and sell your used iPhone or other gadget and since Apple’s iCloud “Find My iPhone” Activation Lock feature rolled out in late 2013, buyers on eBay might expect their chances of buying a stolen device to be reduced.
While it’s possible the clarity of listings might have improved, some basic research suggests that thieves still have an easy marketplace where they can liquidate stolen devices.
Further, it’s evident that a sound industry does exist with plenty of buyers that must obviously have a means of parting out devices to re-sell individual components.
Using an eBay.com completed listing search and searching Terapeak data, it’s obvious that thieves are not worried about selling devices online. Could eBay know about the problem but be blinded by corporate greed? Will “kill switch technology” really have an impact until seller marketplaces are policed?
Statistics of iPhone iCloud Locked Devices on eBay
Search Settings: (eBay Search Setup View)
- Completed Listings
- Recently ended first
- Cell Phone/Smartphone category
- Had the “model” item specification listed as an iPhone 4, iPhone 4s, iPhone 5, iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c.
- 16% (32/200 devices) were sold specifically mentioning the device had “Find My Phone” enabled and was stuck on the “Activation Lock” message.
- 8% (16/200) were described as having a bad ESN or IMEI and either was free of “Activation Lock” or was not mentioned.
- 24% (48/200) devices had iCloud Activation Lock and/or bad ESN/IMEI numbers.
- 25% of the sellers were categorized as business sellers (meaning they had a storefront or business appearance in the listing description).
This research definitely needs further investigation using a larger pool of listings to come up with more firm numbers. However, enough listings were looked at individually from a random set that conclusions could easily be drawn.
Bad ESN/IMEI phones were included in the statistics but did not count towards an iCloud Activation Lock device unless the seller specifically suggested both through the title and/or description.
Some devices could have a bad IMEI or ESN number due to breaking a contract.
This is probably giving favor to the number of potential stolen devices. I should also note that just because a seller lists an Activation Locked device doesn’t necessarily mean that it was stolen. Some device users could have accidentally forgotten to remove the “Find my iPhone” feature before selling their device.
Does eBay know about the potential problem?
They most certainly MUST. Outside of these clearly described listings, there are sellers who don’t mention the activation status of the phone (knowingly or unknowingly). Buyer disputes and claims stemming from purchasers who failed to read the description or were conned is something eBay has always focused on in the past.
I’m sure they’re being very pro-active and siding with buyers who were scammed – but they simply must be aware that their marketplace is thriving with stolen devices. To eBay’s defense, the actual seller might not have stolen the device. It could have been a trade-in or buyback from a business, or a phone that was lost by the original owner.
“This device is activation locked. The message after I attempted to restore says that the phone was lost and displays a cell phone number to call if found.”
No mention from the seller if they had actually attempted to call this phone number and find the original owner! The next seller I reviewed didn’t appear to be a business but showed that 100% of his sold items to be an iPhone with an activation lock with or without a bad IMEI or ESN number. Full time thief … or middle man who buys-back locally on craigslist?
Either way, cell phone theft probably won’t decrease until all levels of theft – including the marketplaces where stolen gadgets are sold – are policed.
Kill Switch Technology Loopholes
Activation Lock kill switch features will surely prevent a subscriber from using the device again. Stolen devices with Bad ESN and IMEI numbers without “Find My Phone” enabled are essentially worth the same value as a fully unlocked device in other countries.In addition, the value in the LCD screen, main board and other components are valuable enough that thieves must consider the reward higher than the risk. Kill switch features might be able to pass off the liability from the manufacturers, leaving the marketplaces to be scrutinized next.
With automobile theft, it’s common to see most stolen cars parted in a chop shop where individual parts are sold. The thief gets a fraction of the actual value for a quick flip where the chop shop is more likely to be caught with a stolen vehicle that can be more easily traced back to. In comparison, just because an iPhone thief receives a lower payout for stealing a device doesn’t mean they’re going to stop stealing cell phones!
Would eBay neglect to be proactive about stolen goods in fear of losing profits?
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