Buying a second hand iPhone? Beware of having your iPhone blacklisted!

I purchased a new iPhone 5s off eBay. 7 months later the original owner of the handset reports it lost/stolen. My iPhone was “blacklisted” and made useless.

  • Purchased new iPhone 5s off eBay “sealed”.
  • Phone most likely an unwanted contract upgrade.
  • 7 months later iphone blacklisted.
  • Original owner used IMEI number printed on the side of the box to report lost/stolen to network provider.

What’s the story?

So in January 2014 I decided to buy a brand new iPhone 5s off eBay. Why eBay I hear you ask? Well, it was a lot cheaper than buying from a store, and with all the payment safety features available through eBay and PayPal I felt quite reassured to handing over a large sum of money.

After hunting through the bargains, I found a brand new “sealed” iPhone 5s from an electrical trade-in brokers in Edinburgh, UK. I won’t name the store as I feel they are, to the best of my knowledge, an innocent party in this. I’m not here to “name and shame”. I assume someone received this iPhone as an unwanted contract upgrade, and traded it in for some cash.

So the phone was brand new and unused, and the retailer had hundreds of positive feedback from customers… so I hit the “buy now” button! A few days later I received my amazing new shiny iPhone 5s, and a new Nano-SIM supplied by my network provider Orange/EE, and I was up and running!

At this point, I’m as happy as a cat sitting in a window taunting the other cats. I loved this iPhone. Just an awesome piece of kit!

7 happy months of being an iPhone user pass by.

It’s July 2014. A sunny wednesday afternoon. All of a sudden, I cannot make calls. I can’t receive calls. I cannot send or receive text messages. I assumed it may be the network and rebooted my phone a few times hoping the signal would return.

It didn’t.

Realising something was wrong I took to the internet and within seconds, realised what had happened. My iPhone had been “blacklisted”.

It appears the original owner/recipient of the iPhone, after trading it in to a brokers for cash, had reported it lost/stolen. Why I hear you ask? Well… the words “fraudulent insurance claim” leap to mind.

How did they do it?

Well, the letters IMEI are at the heart of it all. Standing for International Mobile Station Equipment Identity, the IMEI number is a unique identifier for every single mobile phone device. It’s like a chassis number for your car, and get this – it can be used to turn all your phone functionality on and off remotely.

When you receive a brand new phone the IMEI number is “pinned to you” and your name and the phone are entered into a mysterious database in the sky somewhere that determines “this phone belongs to this person”.

This unique IMEI number is not only found stamped on the handset itself, but also it’s printed on the side of the box the phone comes in. Meaning you can perhaps, write this number down before selling it on to the new owner, and several months later, report it lost/stolen to the network provider quoting your IMEI number! I checked the status of the blacklist using www.checkmend.com, which revealed that phone had indeed been reported lost/stolen.

What happens when they blacklist the phone?

As far as the network provider are concerned, they have to abide by the facts onscreen that this phone presently belongs to this customer by linking the IMEI number against the customers name. They hit a switch, and BOOM, the phone is “blacklisted”. No calls can be received or made, nor can any texts. The phone is now useless, and pretty much worthless.

Who can remove the blacklist?

To the best of my knowledge, the network provider. In my case, EE. The phone was originally locked to EE, so it must have been an EE customer who called in reporting it lost/stolen. I spoke to Apple who advised they have no access or control of the IMEI number. The only people with the power to the remove the blacklist is the network provider pinned to the handset.

Can’t you just tell the network provider you purchased it?

Well you can try. However the phone company does not want to get into a debate about “who stole or bought what”. It is not their place to investigate who is the legitimate owner of the  handset, and so they can only switch it off and abide by the facts.

I wrote a letter.

I wrote “the mother of all letters” to EE on the 29th July 2014, which was received shortly after and signed for by a member of their staff at EE Customer Services in Sunderland. The letter detailed the accounts of how I purchased the phone, eBay receipts to prove purchase, and even photos of the handset “and the box” I have in my possession.

Why is having the iPhone box important?

Well.  Let’s just say for a moment that the original owner of the phone did in fact keep it, and 7 months later had it lost/stolen. What are the chances of them having the phone lost or stolen whilst it is still in the original box? How often do you see someone carrying their phone around with them in the original box?

The aim of my letter was not to complain to the network provider. They are not to blame in any way for the situation. The case of my letter was to prove my “ownership” of the handset. Providing eBay receipts, photographs of the phone and the original box it came, which might I add, had the IMEI stamped all over it. I hoped they could figure out that I was scammed by someone who traded in their phone, and 7 months later, decided to put a bogus insurance claim in for some cash. 7 months and a lot of money later, I had a useless iPhone 5s through no fault of my own.

Can they link the IMEI number to your SIM?

I hoped so! If they are able to see that “right, this customer’s SIM has been using this IMEI number for the last 7 months” then clearly they can see I have been the one using the phone.

What’s the lesson here?

Simple. Avoid buying a phone from a 3rd party, unless you are 100% sure you can trust the original owner/recipient of the handset. Ideally, the original owner can “transfer” ownership and the IMEI to you by contacting the network provider. Just like when you sign papers when buying a second hand car, you can transfer the ownership of a phone over to you.

After you pass the safety windows of eBay and PayPal, you are on your own. Clever minded criminals can easily wait to a time beyond any “cooling off period” before scamming you. The worse part is, if you buy from somewhere like a broker, you can never identify the original owner, so you have no comeback whatsoever. You cannot report anyone, and as they are protected by data protection, and your network cannot divulge anything about them.

Thank you for reading my post about the  risk of having your iPhone blacklisted when buying a handset from a 3rd party. Please share this page, and leave a comment below.

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5 Replies to “Buying a second hand iPhone? Beware of having your iPhone blacklisted!”

    1. Ahh that sucks. Unfortunately my letter or phone calls didn’t help at all. My network provider did their best to give me a good deal on a new contract, but in the end, I just bought my contract out and went elsewhere. A lesson learnt not to buy expensive phones on Ebay! =/

      1. Yes. Wiping slate clean. I will write to EE too. The more who complain may change this insurance scam legislation. Money lost. Life goes on.
        Jon,

        Sent from my iPad

        1. Good luck Jon, I hope something comes of it. If they could only tie together the SIM “using the phone” and the IMEI number it would easier to sort out! Take care. Edward.

          1. Yes. I have spent hours on the phone to EE and then T Mobile who blacklisted the phone. I foolishly bought on Gum Tree and paid in cash. It seems there’s nothing that can be done.

            Jon ‘Mojo’ Mills
            Editor-In-Chief
            SHINDIG!
            64 North View Rd, London, N8 7LL
            Mobile: 07960 138731

            Website / Facebook / Twitter

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