How scammers trick people into unlocking stolen iPhones

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Wondering where your lost or stolen iPhone went? Thanks to Activation Lock and Find My iPhone, Apple locks your devices with your Apple ID. This forces thieves to resort to ever more ingenious ways to make the device usable (and salable) again.

Scammers want you to remove activation lock

It is not enough to simply erase an iPhone, as the activation lock persists even if the device undergoes a full software reset. To activate the device after a soft reset, the linked Apple ID password must be entered. Otherwise, the rightful owner can remove the device from their account using “Erase iPhone” followed by “Remove from Account” using Find My iPhone on iCloud.com.

Removing the iPhone from “Find My” makes it possible for the device to be activated again, using a different Apple ID. A device that isn’t locked to an Apple ID is worth much more than one that is, so if the rightful owner can be convinced to remove Activation Lock, then the thieves can win.

Tracking down the rightful owner of a lost or stolen iPhone isn’t difficult if the device has been put into Lost Mode. This allows the owner to leave a phone number or other contact method, so that anyone who finds the phone can return it to its rightful owner.

RELATED: What is “Lost Mode” on the iPhone, iPad, or Mac?

How the scam works

Scammers can send text messages (like this one) to owners of lost or stolen devices, claiming that the iPhone has been found along with all the personal data on it. It is claimed that photos, contacts, content of email and text messages, or even banking and other personal information are at risk.

The goal is to convince owners that the device must be properly wiped to protect this data, and to do so, they need access to the device. Owners will be instructed to remove the device from “Find My” on iCloud.com to protect data. In reality, it is very unlikely that they have access to this data.

iPhone lock screen

Assuming the device has a unique passcode that is not easy to guess, the chances of this information being available to anyone in possession of the phone are slim. All the thieves want is for you to remotely remove the device from your Apple ID so they can use it themselves.

If you No secure your device with a unique passcode, thieves are likely to send you images or screenshots proving they have your device. You can sign in with your Apple ID on iCloud.com and remotely wipe your device in this case (without removing Activation Lock). It’s a good idea to do this anyway, especially if you have an iCloud backup that you can restore from.

RELATED: How to use a more secure iPhone passcode

Try not to worry about a long-lost iPhone

While the loss of an expensive device hurts, Apple’s security measures are pretty strong. Get in the habit of using a unique six-digit (or more) passcode so that if the worst happens, thieves are left with an expensive paperweight. Above all, don’t be fooled by people trying to convince you to disable Activation Lock by removing the device from your Apple ID remotely.

On the subject of lost iPhones, here’s what to do if you find someone’s missing device.