Why you should always check IMEI status before buying a smartphone

In 1973 Motorola introduced the first commercially available handheld mobile device. Weighing a little over 2kg, the device was far from either functional or fashionable. Around 6 years later, in Japan, the world’s first automated cellular network was commercialised, leading to an explosion in consumer demand and technological evolution. Fast forward several decades and there are more than 2 smartphones on Earth for each human alive today. By 2024 it is estimated there will be more than 18 billion smartphones worldwide.

As the smartphone market has grown, the technology crammed into each device has exploded beyond imagination. It is estimated that the processing power of the average iPhone is 100,000 times greater than the computer on board the Apollo 11 which landed men on the moon over 50 years ago. Although absolute handset cost has fallen since the first devices in the early 70s, in recent years prices have begun to creep up and owning the latest devices has become increasingly difficult for tech-hungry consumers.

Rising prices have created a challenge for consumers. Smartphones have become an integral part of our lives, from browsing the web, to booking a taxi to buying a home, almost anything is possible straight from our devices. We are more dependent than ever but increasingly less able to buy. Network contracts are available, but they don’t suit everybody and often lack flexibility.

The result of this rapid growth in overall demand combined with difficulty purchasing is the emergence of an increasingly large second-hand smartphone market. Though customers are keeping their devices for a little longer than previously had been the case, a great deal of smartphones are regularly traded in through both networks and recycling companies. This increase in trade-in has created a blossoming market for 1-2-year-old devices available to consumers much cheaper than retail price. The second-hand smartphone market is estimated to be worth around £20bn globally.

What is blacklisting?

While this second-hand market offers eager consumers the opportunity to purchase the latest smartphones, in great condition, at prices much lower than release, it also presents potential problems for keen buyers. The risk is that you never really know what you’re buying, particularly if you’ve chosen to buy from an independent store, eBay or any number of other online platforms. Relying on a seller’s honesty is risky business and can leave you out of pocket. One of the biggest risks is that you may well be buying a blacklisted device.

Though billions of devices have been produced since the growth of the commercial smartphone market, each is identifiable by a sort of permanent tracing code unique to each device. Known as the IMEI, which stands for International Mobile Equipment Identity, this code logs the status of the device and be used to mark devices as stolen.

When a phone is reported lost or stolen to the police, it is blacklisted on a central database, rendering it unusable, this avoids sensitive data being exploited and places restrictions on the market for stolen smartphones. When mobiles devices are blacklisted, network services are unavailable and in the worst case the device may be seized by the police, leaving you in a difficult position with some tough questions to answer.

How to check IMEI status

Though this all sounds a little scary, don’t let it discourage you from buying a second-hand smartphone. The great thing about the IMEI code is that as well as protecting you from having your own device exploited, it also allows you to make considered and informed purchases. When you’re buying a device you can simply request the seller provide you with the IMEI and use an online service to Check IMEI before you purchase.

Before you purchase, request the IMEI, visit a website like iPhone IMEI or Doctor Unlock, enter the IMEI code provided and find out instantly exactly what that device is, who it is locked to, whether it is unlocked, and most importantly if it is has been blacklisted. Checking your IMEI status when buying a second-hand device is a must, if you want to avoid buying little more than a paper weight then get ahead of the curve and check first.

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