iPhone activation lock fix: Apple ID cannot be used to unlock this iPhone

Last updated on Jun 4, 2017

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.

Michael Kummer

Atlanta | Austrian | Blogger | Father of a preemie | Paleo fan | Traveler | Amateur photographer | CrossFit
11 Responses to "iPhone activation lock fix: Apple ID cannot be used to unlock this iPhone"
  1. I recently had a somewhat similar experience. I reset my phone and gave it to my brother in law. First thing he asked me for was my Apple ID password as the phone was asking for it. Although unlike yours it was referencing my actual Apple ID. I know activation lock was removed as I have the email showing

  2. I recently had a somewhat similar experience. I reset my phone and gave it to my brother in law. First thing he asked me for was my Apple ID password as the phone was asking for it. Although unlike yours it was referencing my actual Apple ID. I know activation lock was removed as I have the email showing that find my iPhone was removed when I did the reset.

    As for proof of purchase I have to guess that Apple have a paper trail that links your replacement phone to your original purchase. They’ll just take some time to find it.

  3. I had face similar issue today. As you did, I too logged out of find my phone. then Reset all Content and Settings. Then when logged in asks for activation lock ID. it suggest me some p*****@hotmail.com being associated with my iphone. Strange since i have never used any id which starts with “P”. It was newely purchased from Best buy. I have the invoice but its fuzzy, some characters are clear.

    I called apple customer care and they informed me that this might be done only through sending my apple bill.

    Haven’t heard from them yet.

  4. Hi Matt,
    I just had this happen to me, and found your page when I Googled “iphone suddenly requires Activation Lock password”. I was using my phone as usual, typing a text to someone, and my phone randomly and suddenly required an Activation Lock ID and PW. I just did a hard reset and it opens to the same Activation screen. Really frustrating! I will call Apple Support now and try to remember to update you on what I find. Thanks for your post.

  5. OK, before calling Apple Support, I noticed that when the Activation opened, it actually had my real email address this time, and wanted a password. But it gave me the option of choosing “skip this step” which I did. Now it says “Merge with iCloud?” YOur News data and Safari data on this iPhone will be uploaded and merged with iCloud. I selected “Don’t Merge”. It is now saying “Welcome to iPhone” and I have to select “Get Started” and suddenly I’m back to the original text I was typing. Very weird.

  6. I woke up on Thursday morning 9/28/17 and went to look at my iPhone 6 for the time. My iPhone was plugged into the charger the night before when I went to bed. When I bought the iPhone, I had an existing Apple ID account because I had originally bought a 4S in 2012 from the Apple Store and they set up an Apple ID as an @me.com account.
    I had the habit at the time of carrying my iPhone 4S in my jeans pocket as it was convenient to have it available at all times. My mistake was to forget to remove it from my jeans pocket when I put the jeans in the wash. I discovered my mistake the next a.m. When I went to put the jeans in the dryer. My heart sank.

    I had to go to work so I waited until the evening to go to my carrier to purchase an iPhone 6 which had just come out and luckily was available to purchase. My carrier insisted that I create a NEW Apple ID for this phone as they said the old Apple ID format was no longer being used. I did that using my email address as they suggested and got my phone set up enough to have service. (It was late and I needed to get home.)

    I called Apple when I was ready to download my contacts and other info from the cloud. I told them my info was on the @me.com Apple ID account but the phone was set up under my email address. They had me download all the info/contacts and that was fine. The support person told me I needed to back that info up to the new iCloud account. When I did, the info (for some reason) disappeared off my phone. The Apple Support person had me re-download the info and told me to keep the two Apple ID’s. I kept them both by using the same PW on each.

    In 2015, I bought an iMac because my PC broke down and I decided I was going to go to Apple. I told the person who set up my iMac (I was too new to this at the time) the scenario above and requested my email address Apple ID be used. Until Thursday, I thought that was what he did. I recently bought an iPad Pro and it is set up under my email Apple ID. It would not allow me to change the PW (which somehow got out of sync) for my iPhone which I discovered was linked to my original @me.com Apple ID (surprise, surprise!) I called Apple support from my sisters phone to call Apple on Thursday and they suggested I go home and use my iMac to change the PW.

    I went home and tried to log on to that account but it was locked because it too used my original Apple ID! My daughter and I used the guest “login” to see if we were able to change the Apple ID Password but like you, it asked for my debit card number, date of exp., and security code with which I bought the iPhone. That card expired in February and like they tell us – I destroyed the card when I activated the new debit card. I called my bank but despite having the card number and exp. date, they had no record of the security code. I went thru so much to get that info and here I sit without a phone available to use. I am at my wits end. I disconnected my home phone a year ago because the only calls I got on it was from marketers.

    What can I do now? I am a 68 year old retiree with Osteoarthritis so it is hard for me to get around. I don’t know if going 40 miles to the Apple Store will yield me any results. And if I did, would I need to drag along the iMac and the iPad as well?

    Thanks for any advice you can give me.


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