Friday, 11 September 2015

eBay Sellers: Avoid iPhone iCloud Lock Extortion Scam from Buyers

Yes you may think the sellers are the scammers but I now have first hand experience of buyers using
the same scam to extort sellers!

Read on to find out how you can definitively avoid being extorted. Or if tl;dr scroll down to the end for the bits of proof you'll need and other guidelines.

I apologise in advance for potty-mouth.

Okay, I suppose I should begin at the beginning. As regular readers know I have switched to Android phones for various reasons so put my iPhones up for auction on eBay.

One iPhone sold without friction, just the buyer asking for proof of the extended AppleCare+ which I duly provided. Everything went well, the buyer paid promptly, I gave them positive feedback on eBay. Some days later the buyer gave me positive feedback on eBay. All good. Possibly lulling me into a false sense of eBay feedback nirvana.

Anyway. The other iPhone was a totally different story.

As an aside, the first listing for this other iPhone ended with an international user with zero eBay feedback winning the item. As regular sellers will know this has all the hallmarks of a throw-away eBay account used to inflate the price of your auction out of the market. And surprise, this buyer never paid and never responded to my messages. Naturally I did not ship the iPhone, it just sat boxed and ready to ship, all iCloud unlocked and everything.

You know when your iPhone is iCloud unlocked because Apple send an email to you via your Apple ID details telling you exactly that. Remember this!

Anyway. I re-list the iPhone that didn't sell, but keep the auction within national boundaries to keep it simpler. A few days later the winning bidder pays promptly. Great. All is well and good in eBay land so far.

I explain to the buyer that the warranty status can be confirmed by entering the device serial number at Apple's website. I also suggest they can record it on their Apple support profile once they have it set up with their Apple ID. I also double-check I have removed it from my own support profile (of course I had, ages ago!)

So far so good. Package the iPhone and send it off via Royal Mail Special Delivery, insured up to £600. I am careful to keep proof of posting, natch.

The buyer seems quite excited to receive the iPhone, I am quite happy for them, they've messaged me a couple of times to ask about warranty blah blah blah, nothing out of the ordinary.

The buyer messages me to confirm receipt of the iPhone.

My first mistake: because things seem to be going so well, I give the buyer positive feedback. After all, they seem happy, they've paid, what could possibly go wrong?


Later I get a message from the buyer saying that the iPhone is iCloud activation locked, displaying "This iPhone is currently linked to an Apple ID (e** Sign in with the Apple ID that was used to set up this iPhone."

Oh dear. Did I really forget to deactivate my iCloud account on the iPhone? After all, the buyer says it's reporting a Yahoo email address and I do have a Yahoo account that I use for Flickr. Could I possibly have screwed up so badly and not used the same Apple ID I've been using for over 10 years when I was previous owner of this iPhone?

I smelled something fishy. The pungent aroma of an eBay asshole.

Sure that I had shipped the iPhone iCloud unlocked, I double-checked my iCloud account Find My iPhone and my Apple Support profile - nada. It aint there, so surely it must be unlocked and this person is just being a cock.

In case my Flickr Yahoo ID has somehow become associated with an Apple ID, I use iForgot to
attempt to reset the password - however Apple systems report no record. Phew.

That asshole buyer got smellier.

I googled to see if there was a way to check iCloud activation status - after all, if I could prove the iPhone was currently iCloud unlocked, this eBay asshole could get fucked.

I typed the iPhone serial number in at Apple's Activation Lock check website. Guess what? The iPhone is iCloud Activation Locked. FUUUUUUUUUUUU - how did that even


The buyer offers their mobile number. You know, for a quick chat to smooth things over - all I'd need to do is give over my Apple ID username and password so they can unlock the iPhone. WAIT WHAT.

So not only is the iCloud account the iPhone is locked to not match my actual Apple ID, the buyer assures me a quick old-fashioned chat over the phone will solve everything.

This now stinks to me. It is obvious that the iPhone has been tampered with but I stop short of any accusations. I guess Royal Mail must've done it, right?

The buyer thinks there's no way Royal Mail tampered with the device (and I tend to agree). They are pointing the finger at themselves as far as I'm concerned. (I say 'they' because there are three different names associated with this particular transactions' accounts at their end).

I remain polite.

They accuse me of being an iPhone dealer, a scammer, untrustworthy - the implication being the iPhone is stolen and I am not the previous owner - booga booga. They say I know damned well that an iCloud locked iPhone can be had on eBay for hundreds of pounds less than what the buyer paid hint hint.

They assure me they are a 100% genuine eBayer. And their account does have double the amount of positive feedback than mine.

I'm not budging. I know I sent the iPhone with iCloud deactivated and as I mentioned the account it was locked to their end was not my account. The only explanation is that the iPhone has been tampered with after dispatch. Unfortunately I can't definitively prove this and the asshole knows it.

I check out eBay policy on name-calling accusations. I report the asshole for being an asshole, being sure to mention that he was asking for my Apple ID username and password outside of the eBay messaging system.

The next morning I get a much cooler, polite, message from the buyer. Let's sort this out amicably shall we?

Well as far as I'm concerned there's nothing to sort out, they've locked the iPhone themselves and are trying to guide me into offering a refund. I can prove I am the previous owner of the iPhone and I can prove ownership has transferred to them.

I remain polite. Send proofs of purchase and warranty. They give me a sob story about an interrupted social life and then taking half a day off work to visit an Apple store to get the iPhone unlocked. Diddums.

They tell me the iPhone is now iCloud unlocked (I double check, and it is) and that because it was sold in the iCloud locked state (it wasn't and I have emails from Apple to prove it) and because they had the inconvenience of visiting an Apple store (I only have the assholes word for this, no proof) that I should agree to a partial refund to ensure positive feedback from them. WAIT WHAT.

Now of course there's a small chance this buyer is not an asshole, but demanding a partial refund or else they will give me negative feedback? Well fuck 'em, I'll suck down the negative feedback and I'll further report the asshole to eBay for attempted extortion.

And that dear reader is why I must offer you this advice when using eBay to sell your iPhone: you must keep a record proving that the iPhone is iCloud unlocked whilst in transit to the buyer, that way you will have zero self-doubt. You can do this by sending it Royal Mail Special Delivery (other courier services are available) and keep the proof of posting - this includes the tracking number and the date/time you dropped it off with the Post Office. Now go to Apple's iCloud Activation Lock checker website and enter the iPhone serial number, take a screenshot. Even if some asshole accuses you of doctoring the screenshot, at least you will be sure of yourself and know 100% you are dealing with an asshole buyer.


When selling iPhones on eBay adhere to these guidelines to avoid being extorted by an asshole buyer:

1. Only communicate within the eBay messaging system. This makes typing email addresses a pain and attachments are woefully low resolution but it means if it goes to eBay arbitration the entire thread is there.

2. Keep proof of dispatch and proof of iCloud Activation status whilst the iPhone is in transit to the buyer. Whilst a real total asshole might also accuse you of doctoring the image, you could counter with a statement along the lines of "proof is the burden of the prosecution" (in English law).

3. Don't give the buyer feedback until a couple of weeks later. This means you are on equal footing until the transaction is long forgotten. Any asshole buyer is unlikely to attempt eBay extortion after that length of time.

4. Stay cool, calm, collected, polite. The customer is always right but assholes will be assholes.

5. Don't be afraid to report the buyer to eBay if you have a legitimate reason to do so. I suspect a lot of assholes get away with extortion because more genuine sellers don't complain to eBay about the asshole buyer.

6. Some buyers are assholes because they always want to get a deal. You are not obligated to satisfy their addiction for 'winning'.

This all helps avoid the situation where you ship an iCloud unlocked iPhone to the buyer but the buyer then iCloud locks it themselves and accuses you of shipping stolen goods.

I hope you have found this anecdote informative, if not entertaining.


  1. you can be one step ahead by using next trick: 1: create 3 iCloud accounts
    2: log in one by one in your iDevice and turn ON iCloud lock
    3: turn off iCloud lock and remove device
    4: log in with the second iCloud account, lock it and unlock it
    5: log in with 3'rd iCloud account, lock it and unlock it
    6: sell the iDevice with iCloud off
    7: Asshole will find out that he can' t use his iCloud account to lock the iDevice 4'th time as any iDevice has the maximum 3 iCloud accounts lifespan. after that is unlockable. don't forget to save imei.

  2. Haha, nice. Any type of zero feedback buyer is a risk. I've recently sent something abroad to one but instead of scamming or coming up with excuses he was happy and left me positive feedback a day or two after receiving it. Sometimes it's safe, whilst mostly, it's a gamble you should never take...

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