“Can you unlock this device for me?”
This seems to be the question of the season as savvy folks look to the used/refurbished device market.
A quick search on eBay turns up hundreds of devices that are marked as “iCloud locked” or “Activation locked” devices. These devices are (almost always) lost or stolen devices and they will never again be usable as designed.
In the old days, pre iOS 7, stolen devices could readily be cleared of their data with a fresh install of the operating system and were ready to go. Even if they were ‘passcode locked’ –didn’t matter, just write over everything and go.
Not anymore. Apple created the “activation lock” or “iCloud lock” which requires that any device that has once been activated under someone’s iCloud account (aka–someone clicked through the normal set up wizard and typed in their Apple ID) has to have that password entered in order to be transferred to a new owner.
This means that:
1.) If you sell a device–you need to clear the iCloud lock. You can either Erase all Contents and Settings or Remove iCloud account—-both of which will require your Apple ID password. Once done, the phone can be sold and the new owner will not encounter the ‘activation lock’
2.) If step one is not done, (even if the phone is completely restored with a new operating system from recovery mode) then the new setup wizard will STILL REQUIRE the password of the original owner in order to be activated and usable.
Since we hear about things like iPhone jailbreaking all the time, it would be normal to assume that there must be some sort of hack or workaround—but there is not.
To be clear. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY TO REMOVE THE ICLOUD LOCK WITHOUT THE ORIGNAL OWNERS PASSWORD.
That fact doesn’t stem the tide of scammers claiming to be able to remove the activation lock, but all of these are either completely false, will provide an ‘unlock’ that is temporary, or will provide an unlock that is pretty useless since the device won’t be able to talk to the App Store or cell towers. NO METHOD will leave you with a device that will work as designed.
While we’re throwing around the word “unlock”, I’d be remiss to not clarify that some important distinctions. The iCloud or Activation lock that we’ve been talking about is different bag of cats than Carrier lock–i.e. using a phone on O2 and then ‘unlocking it’ for use on Vodafone. That is entirely possible and there are many legitimate unlocking services for carrier/network unlocking.
Also, ‘passcode locked’ when you forget your PIN code or password that the phone prompts you for at slide-to-unlock. THIS isn’t the end of the line. It is possible to erase the phone and restore it without that passcode (you will lose your data) but it can be set up again. AS LONG AS you can clear the iCloud/Activation lock–i.e. you still know your Apple ID password that you use with iTunes.
Still clear as mud?
Here is a cheatsheet:
iCloud or Activation locked—IMPOSSIBLE.
STOLEN DEVICE. AVOID.
Carrier or Network locked—ready for use, but locked to that network. May be eligible for unlocking service (not all carriers allow unlocking)
Passcode locked—Can be erased and restored as new IF not also iCloud locked.