iPhone's "kill switch" is working to reduce thefts - FOX 35 News Orlando

iPhone's "kill switch" is working to reduce thefts

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ATLANTA, Ga. -

iPhones are expensive, but you can buy a used one. It's a lot cheaper, but it's riskier buying from a stranger. You wonder: Does it work? Was it stolen? This is where a kill switch of sorts comes in.

It's designed to keep an iPhone from working if it's lost or stolen. If you have the latest operating system, Apple has folded into the "Find My iPhone" app something it calls activation lock.

Georgia Tech student Anup Chandora wishes he'd known about this before he bought a used iPhone on Craigslist.

He said there was nothing unusual about the ad placed by someone named Megan.

"It gave her phone number. It gave her name. And it said it had a few scratches. So when I called her she said you can come to my house and pick it up."

He drove to Douglasville to her home, but the phone didn't have a SIM card. So, he couldn't test it out. He only had the seller's word that it worked.

"I asked her if I could pay for it, and take it home, and test it out, and if there were any problems with it, if I stuck the SIM card in, and it said lost or stolen, I wanted to come back and get my money. She said, sure," he said.

When he turned it on later that day, Anup says it asked for a username and password. He says he called Megan but she said she didn't have it because she was selling the phone "for a friend."

"I called her about 30 times in a row," he said shaking his head.

Without that information, the phone doesn't work because it's locked through the "Find My iPhone" app. You might know this app because it helps you find your phone when you lose it

"Originally, it had a little bit of security, but it was more for, 'Oh no, I've lost my phone'," said Bonnie Smyre an information security expert.

But there's more to it now. Folded in is a security feature called "activation lock." If "Find My iPhone" is turned on, you can lock your phone if it is stolen. You can also erase your phone's data. This automatically reports it as stolen or lost, and it can't be used again until the owner puts in a password. Here's the sequence: Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings.

And it's really working to deter thefts says Bonnie Smyre.

"Police departments are saying this has helped with thefts incredibly. New York City says 19 percent fewer thefts in the past year since this came out. San Francisco 38 percent."

The I-Team talked to the seller, Megan, about getting the key to unlock the phone she sold - the username and password - but she wasn't very helpful.

"I mean I can't do nothing about it now."

How about giving back Anup's money?

"I don't have it."

Megan told me she just doesn't really know anything about the phone. Like she told Anup, she just sold it for a friend. End of story. Then she slammed the door.

And just like that, it's over. Unless Anup wants to take Megan to small claims court to get his money back, there's nothing else he can do. He now owns what amounts to a $200 paperweight. If he could only rewind and start over again, here's what he should have done when shopping for a used iPhone.

First stop: Ask the seller for the phone's IMEI or ESN. What's that? This is the phone's electronic serial number. You can find it by going to "settings" go to "general" then into "about." There it is. Take that number and run it through www.checkESNfree.com. It's like running a used car history report. It's not a perfect system, but it's a first step.

"If someone has clicked on 'lost my phone' or 'erase my phone', it automatically registers and it will come up saying its stolen," said Smyre.

If it's OK, the next step is to double check that number when you have the phone in hand. Make sure it's the same one the seller offered over the phone.

Assuming that's good, with a quick swipe, deactivate "Find My iPhone." Here, it'll ask for a username and password that the seller will need to input.

"They need to have deactivated "Find My iPhone" because if they're selling the phone to you, that's not theirs anymore," Smyre adds.

Now you can start taking over the phone.

But RAXIS security experts have one last recommendation: Make sure for the protection of both the seller and the buyer, that the sale happens at the cell phone provider you plan to use.

It's a neutral spot where experts can walk you both through these steps. And, here's something you might not know: If that seller has an outstanding bill associated with that phone, you'll find out. You can't turn that phone on until the owner pays it off. You can't pay it off for them.

RAXIS has a step-by-step guide you'll want to reference before you sell and before you buy.

 

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