Unlocking the Power of IMEI Numbers for Mobile Security

Have you ever lost or had your smartphone stolen? It‘s a sickening feeling wondering if you‘ll ever see your device again, let alone the valuable personal data it contains.

I have some good news for you. There is a little-known system in place on every cell phone that provides a way to track, secure and even recover your devices if they are ever lost or stolen. Let me introduce you to the power of the IMEI number.

What is the IMEI Number?

IMEI stands for International Mobile Equipment Identity. It is a unique 15-digit number assigned to every single mobile phone, tablet and smartphone. You can think of it as the device‘s fingerprint. Just like your fingerprint maps the unique patterns on your fingertips, the IMEI precisely maps the identity of your device.

This IMEI number enables several crucial functions:

  • Uniquely identifying your specific device
  • Blocking stolen phones from cellular networks
  • Tracking down the location of lost devices
  • Recovering stolen devices by law enforcement

So in many ways, knowing your device‘s IMEI number is the first line of defense against device theft.

The Alarming Threat of Mobile Theft

Before we go any further, let me illustrate exactly why safeguarding your mobile devices is so critical in today‘s world:

  • Over 2 million smartphones are stolen per year in the United States alone
  • As many as 1 in 10 smartphone owners have had their device stolen
  • Victims have only a 10 – 20% chance of recovering stolen phones
  • Up to 80% of stolen devices eventually end up overseas where they are almost impossible to recover

As you can see, mobile device theft is rampant. But with over 280 million smartphone owners in the US, even the most conservative estimates mean millions of devices are falling into the wrong hands each year.

(Source: Consumer Reports Mobile Device Theft Statistics 2022)

This is why having access to your phone‘s IMEI number serves such a vital purpose – it just may be your greatest chance at getting your device back unscathed.

Anatomy of the IMEI Number

Now that you understand the immense value of the IMEI number, let‘s break down what this unique 15-digit code actually represents:

IMEI Number Breakdown

As you can see in the diagram above:

  • The first 6 digits tie back to the TAC (Type Allocation Code) identifying the specific device make and model
  • The next 2 digits represent the actual device variant or type
  • The following 6 digits serve as the unique serial number for that exact handset
  • The last digit is a check value for validation

So in simple terms, the IMEI precisely identifies the device manufacturer and model using the globally standardized system of TAC codes. Then appends the production run number sequence along with a unique serial all tied to that particular handset.

Locating The IMEI Number on Your Device

Every mobile device from the latest smartphone to older legacy flip phones contains the printed IMEI number on its physical hardware as well as encoded in internal software.

Here are the most common ways to surface the IMEI number:

On Android

  • Dial *#06# – Brings up IMEI number directly on screen
  • Settings > About Phone > Status – IMEI Listed
  • Remove rear cover – IMEI printed on sticker
  • Original box and documents

On iPhone

  • Dial *#06# to display IMEI
  • Settings > General > About – Scroll down to IMEI
  • SIM card tray – Number printed on tray
  • Back of device or SIM tray – Printed on label

As you can see, the most convenient way to check is to bring up the phone dial screen and enter *#06# on the keypad. This works to display the IMEI number on all modern smartphones and takes seconds.

But I recommend also documenting the IMEI in your original receipt or device box for safe keeping. Also print out a copy to store securely along with the number stored in your contacts. This gives you backup reference points if ever needed.

Using IMEI When Phone is Lost or Stolen

Armed with your device‘s unique IMEI number, both you and law enforcement stand a much better chance of tracking it down and recovering your phone if it is ever lost or stolen.

Here are three steps you should take:

1. Report Theft to Carrier

Contact your cell provider and supply them the IMEI number of the stolen phone. They will add it to their central database that tracks blacklisted devices barred from cellular networks.

This blocks access to your mobile account and prevents the thief from using your SIM. More importantly, it renders the device unusable on any cellular network, removing incentives for the criminals.

2. File Police Report

Contact the police department in the area where the device went missing and supply them with the IMEI number. Police can match this against international stolen device databases during investigations.

Having the accurate IMEI supplies critical evidence helping track down and prosecute mobile trafficking rings reselling stolen devices.

3. Check IMEI Tracking Tools

There are online IMEI tracking tools that crawl international cell networks looking for blacklisted or reported devices. These give you extra capabilities for monitoring the status of your device if stolen.

When purchasing a used phone…

On the flip side, you can leverage these same IMEI tracking tools if purchasing a new phone second-hand. Running the IMEI ensures the device you are buying hasn‘t been stolen or blacklisted already without you knowing!

This validates you aren‘t buying a blocked paperweight while making sure your money doesn‘t support the mobile device black market.

Top IMEI Tracking Tools

There are many online IMEI tracking services available, both free and paid. These access global registries and provide data on device identification details and ownership status.

Here are 5 leading options:


My personal go-to for fast and reliable lookups. Simply enter the 15-digit IMEI code and access data on over 5 billion devices. Provides manufacturer details, model specs, production dates and general ownership status. Also great for validating second-hand purchase devices.

Free IMEI Check

Another top option, this free tracker scans multiple international IMEI databases to check mobile device status. Useful when buying used devices or troubleshooting blacklisting issues with carriers.


Great for checking factory default status on new phones or validating second-hand purchases. Fast and accurate tracking against global device registries.


A paid service but very powerful for those serious about mobile device tracking. CheckMEND is integrated with many top insurance providers and law enforcement agencies to identify device status as well as ownership history. Useful when performing investigation or assurance services.

Stolen Cell Phone Registry

A free tracking tool focused specifically on identifying stolen or lost devices. Users can register their devices then receive alerts if the IMEI appears in their database enhanced by community reports. Provides the best capabilities for recovering stolen phones.

Should you pay for IMEI tracking?

Paid services like CheckMEND give you access to more comprehensive, up-to-date data from sources like international carrier records and insurance claims. This powers better investigation capabilities when a device is stolen.

However free IMEI lookups still provide decent basic checks against global registration databases. And services like Stolen Cell Phone Registry offer good community-enhanced tracking of stolen phones specifically.

So while paid options provide more robust tracking, free tools can still meet most consumer device tracking needs.

Emerging Uses for IMEI Numbers

Beyond just securing mobile phones, IMEI numbers are now being integrated into other cellular-powered technologies:

  • eSIM Integration – IMEI is mapped to next-gen eSIM profiles that can be digitally transferred between devices
  • NB-IoT Tracking – Leverages IMEI identifiers for asset monitoring via Narrowband IoT networks
  • Autonomous Vehicles – Integrated IMEI chips for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications
  • 5G Connectivity – High-speed, high-bandwidth 5G spec requires IMEI identification for network handshakes
  • Smart Infrastructure – IMEI‘s uniquely ID sensors across smart power grids, water systems and transportation
  • Supply Chain Management – IMEI tracking for logistic assets like containers, pallets and packages

As you can see, nearly every aspect of the emerging Internet of Things will leverage IMEI or similar identifiers for provisioning and securing connections.

Additional Phone Security Measures

Beyond the IMEI number, here are some other critical steps you should take to secure your device:

  • Download a trusted anti-theft app like Prey or Cerberus for advanced device tracking, wiping and recovery capabilities
  • Enable strong screen lock passcodes, fingerprint authentication or facial recognition
  • Install a VPN like NordVPN to encrypt internet traffic and mask devices from prying eyes
  • Only install apps from official app stores like Google Play or Apple App Store
  • Avoid storing passwords or sensitive personal information on mobile devices when possible
  • Frequently update your device OS and apps to patch security vulnerabilities

Key Takeaways

To wrap things up, here are the major points to remember about effectively utilizing IMEI numbers:

✔️ IMEIs serve as unique "digital fingerprints" for mobile devices
✔️ Check and record the IMEI number from your phone and tablet
✔️ Provide IMEI when reporting lost or stolen devices to vastly improve recovery odds
✔️ Leverage IMEI tracking sites to monitor status of missing devices
✔️ Use IMEI lookups when purchasing pre-owned devices to check authenticity
✔️ Combine IMEI tracking with protective measures like anti-theft apps for multi-layered security

Knowing and properly utilizing your device‘s special IMEI number gives you the best possible chance of recovering your gadget if it is ever lost or stolen. Treat it like the critical tracking number that it is.

I hope this guide gives you newfound confidence via the power granted by the IMEI number. Just be sure to bookmark resources like the IMEI tracking tools mentioned above before disaster strikes.

Stay vigilant out there and keep this advice handy just in case the unthinkable happens to your beloved phone or mobile gear. The IMEI lookup waits patiently in your back pocket for that fateful day.