How To Check If A Phone Is Stolen (UK)

Buying a used phone can be a savvy way to save money while still getting your hands on a device that suits your needs.

However, the rise of online marketplaces like eBay and Facebook has brought along a new set of challenges, particularly the risk of purchasing a phone that may have been registered as lost or stolen.

In the UK, this issue is compounded by the potential for network providers to block phones reported as lost or stolen.

This essentially means that no matter what sim card you use in the phone, you’ll get no signal for phone calls or texts, and you’ll have no 4G or 5G signal to use the internet or any apps.

In this article, I’ll explore the dangers of buying used phones (or even ‘new’ phones) from online marketplaces, show you how to check if a phone is stolen or lost, show you how to check if a phone is still in a ‘contract’ period, and provide valuable tips for UK buyers to ensure a secure purchase.

Below is a handy table of contents. Clicking on any of the article headers below will jump you straight to the place on this page you are interested in.

Is It Safe To Buy Phones on eBay And Other Online Marketplaces?

In short, yes.

Thousands of phones are listed on marketplaces every day, as people upgrade their phones and sell their old ones.

Most transactions are a smooth process and cause no problems, but a few unscrupulous sellers will attempt to deceive by selling phones that are knowingly lost or stolen.

What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

The worst that could happen is the phone you have purchased becomes blocked by the network provider, due to one of the following reasons:

  1. It has been registered as stolen.
  2. It has been registered as lost.
  3. The contract on the phone has not been paid.

When a phone becomes blocked, it will stop receiving a network signal from any network provider in the UK.

Even if you try and use another sim card from another network provider, the phone will still be blocked – and completely unusable.

And that’s because the IMEI number attached to the phone (which is a special serial number for phones), is stored in a database used by all UK network providers. If one of the three reasons I listed above happens, that network provider will ‘blacklist’ the phone on the database.

As all network operators use and share this database, if one provider puts a block on the IMEI, they all do. So even if you find your phone is blocked by say, 02, if you try and use a Vodafone sim in the phone, it will still be blocked and you won’t be able to get a signal.

This database was implemented many years ago, as a way of dealing with people selling stolen phones, phones which were lost, or even where the owner of a phone had a contract with the phone, and decided to stop paying the contract and sell the phone.

Tips For Purchasing A Mobile Phone From eBay & Other Marketplaces

Here’s some basic tips which will minimise the risk of you potentially purchasing a mobile phone that becomes blocked in the future.

  1. Check the IMEI Number: The International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number is a unique identifier for every mobile device. Before finalising a purchase, ask the seller for the IMEI number and verify its status. You can do this by visiting the CheckMend website or using the official IMEI checking services provided by mobile networks. Sign up to a free account, and get your first check free.
  2. Use Reputable Sellers: Stick to well-established and reputable sellers on online marketplaces. Check their ratings, reviews, and history of transactions. Reputable sellers are less likely to be involved in selling stolen devices, as they have a business reputation to uphold. Avoid sellers with new accounts, or with hardly any activity on the platform.
  3. Meet in Person for Local Transactions: Whenever possible, opt for face-to-face transactions, especially in local markets. Meeting the seller in person allows you to inspect the phone thoroughly, ask questions, and ensure that the transaction is legitimate. Be cautious if the seller is unwilling to meet in person.
  4. Request Proof of Purchase: Ask the seller for the original proof of purchase or any relevant documents that can verify the phone’s ownership. Legitimate sellers should have no issue providing this information, while those involved in illicit activities might hesitate.
  5. Check the Phone’s Activation Lock Status: For iPhones, check the Activation Lock status by asking the seller to disable the Find My iPhone feature. If the feature is still active, it could indicate that the phone is still linked to the previous owner’s account, posing a potential risk.
  6. Verify the Phone’s History: Research the phone’s history by using online tools and databases that track stolen devices. While this is not foolproof, it can provide additional information about the phone’s background and whether it has been reported as lost or stolen.
  7. Trust Your Instincts: If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Exercise caution and trust your instincts when making a purchase. If the seller is pressuring you or providing vague information, consider it a red flag and reconsider the transaction.


Buying a used phone is a good way of saving yourself a lot of money, but it comes with inherent risks, particularly when dealing with online marketplaces.

By following my tips and above and conducting thorough research, you can minimise the likelihood of purchasing a stolen phone and ensure a secure and legitimate transaction.

Do bear in mind that the majority of sales of mobile phones online are made by genuine people, who are simply selling their old phone, as they have bought a new phone.

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Questions & Comments

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I’ll try my best to reply to each and every one of your questions, comments and suggestions.

Stay Safe. Stay Secure.


My name is Richard.

I'm 40 years old. And I have nearly 20 years experience in various safety and security industries.

I'm here for you, sharing all my knowledge and experience to help you create a safe and secure home for you and your family.

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