Yesterday, while restoring an old iPhone 6s Plus, I realized that it was locked to someone else’s Apple ID via the iPhone Activation Lock. In this article, I will explain how to get past the “Apple ID cannot be used to unlock this iPhone” error message.
iPhone Activation Lock
The iPhone Activation Lock is a feature that’s designed to prevent anyone else from using your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple Watch if it’s ever lost or stolen. If you are not familiar with Find my iPhone and its Activation Lock feature, check out this knowledge base article on apple.com.
When I upgraded to the iPhone 7 Plus, I completely erased my old iPhone 6S Plus I had until then via Settings –> General –> Reset –> Erase All Content and Settings. By doing so, I effectively deactivated the Activation Lock, which I had to confirm by entering my Apple ID password. After the iPhone was erased, I put it back into its original box and stored the box in our bedroom. My plan was, to give the phone to another family member.
The other day, my wife dropped her iPhone 6 and shattered its screen, and we didn’t get an appointment at the local Apple Store to have it repaired until next Wednesday. So I figured, I would just give her my old iPhone 6s Plus until her iPhone got fixed. So I took it out of its box, booted it up and connected it to my iMac to restore it from a backup I made of her iPhone 6.
Someone else’s Apple ID
Suddenly, an Activation Lock screen appeared indicating that the iPhone was still locked. I thought that it was strange because I knew that I had the Activation Lock removed when I erased the iPhone. But I entered my Apple ID and password anyway, to remove the lock.
Upon clicking continue, I got an error message indicating that my Apple ID cannot be used to unlock this iPhone. I was puzzled and took a closer look at the Activation Lock screen. And there it was – a hint to what Apple ID my iPhone was locked to. It showed [email protected]. Needless to say, neither my wife nor I own an email address or Apple ID that starts with “l” and contains “@1”. In fact, I have never seen an Apple ID with this pattern.
Apple Support to the rescue (or not)
I called Apple Support, and a senior advisor confirmed the lock but said he couldn’t see the full Apple ID my iPhone was locked to either. He also couldn’t explain how this could have happened, but he said the Activation Lock only kicks in when someone signs in with an Apple ID and password during the setup process of the iPhone. This particular iPhone was in a box the whole time since I reset it. So unless our cleaning lady decided to take the iPhone out of the box, set it up under her Apple ID and then remotely wiped the phone without going through Settings –> General –> Reset –> Erase All Content and Settings before putting it back into the box, something else is going on here.
My guess is that there is some major screwup on the Apple backend, which somehow led to the association of my iPhone’s IMEI (the iPhone’s unique identifier) with someone else’s Apple ID.
How to fix the problem
Apple can remove the Activation Lock on their end, but they require a proof of purchase. I ordered my iPhone 6s Plus via apple.com, and thus I have a receipt. Unfortunately, I ordered an unlocked T-Mobile phone while I was still with AT&T and AT&T didn’t want to activate Wireless Calling on my iPhone because it was a “foreign” phone. So I went into my local Apple Store and out of courtesy, they replaced my T-Mobile with an AT&T model. I did not get any paperwork for that transaction, and as a result, I don’t have a proof of purchase for the iPhone 6s Plus I’m holding right now.
The senior advisor took the proof of purchase from the original iPhone and submitted it to the activation team. I should hear back by Tuesday night if they are going to unlock it or not. Either way, I will never find out how the heck my iPhone ever got locked to someone else’s Apple ID. Such unresolved cases drive me crazy!
Update: Apple did finally remove the activation lock, and I could use my phone.
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