Apple devices, such as iPads and iPhones, are popular targets for criminals to steal. That got one step harder today, allowing users to check to see if the used iPhone they just bought was either lost or stolen.

A similar tool has been available since iOS 7, but hackers quickly found a workaround to bypass the locking mechanism. Activation Lock, a part of Find My iPhone, was supposed to lock a device, and require the user to enter their Apple ID and password to use the device again.

Criminals were able to bypass this authentication by tricking the device to ping an alternative iCloud server.

IMEI Activation Lock

The newest Apple tool to combat thieves allows would-be customers to see if it was lost or stolen, and even if it was unlocked using unofficial tools. The IMEI/Serial number is check is done against Apple’s real Activation Lock database. Owners of Apple devices that have upgraded to iOS 8 don’t have to do anything. It’s turned on by default.

This new tool is partly in response to California legislation mandating that all phones sold in the state have a kill-switch function by July 2015. So far, Activation Lock has been a success. San Francisco, a hub of iPhone thefts, has seen a drop of 38 percent in reported iPhone thefts.

New York has seen thefts drop by 19 percent. I guess thieves aren’t as clued in on technology as Silicon Valley’s neighbor. This new tool could see thefts plummet even further as Apple makes it harder on the criminal elements to circumvent the Activation Lock feature.

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As for prospective buyers, be sure you check the device on iCloud’s Activation Lock site. It will save you a lot of grief if you can walk away from purchasing lost or stolen property.

Check the status of used devices here.

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