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Fix “The Apple ID cannot be used to unlock this iPhone/iPad”

Security is crucial for mobile devices, understandably. You need to enter your Apple ID when you’re setting up your iPhone.

However, if you buy used or refurbished phones, you might find that the previous owner forgot to sign out.

When another user’s iCloud account links to your iPhone, you can’t log in with your own Apple ID.  It will give you a “The Apple ID cannot be used to unlock this iPhone” message.

That doesn’t mean you have to start buying brand new iPhones; there are ways to get around these Apple ID issues.

Why “The Apple ID cannot be used to unlock this iPhone” Happens

If you’re seeing the alert “the Apple ID cannot be used to unlock this iPhone,” you most likely factory reset your iPhone and trying to activate it with iTunes.

This is a security feature to protect unauthorized users from stealing and erasing your phone, but it’s a hassle if you buy used phones.

The previous owner might have left their iCloud account signed in on the device, which means you don’t have the ability to log in with another Apple ID.

Fix The Apple ID Cannot Be Used to Unlock This iPhone/iPad/Apple Watch

Getting locked out of your account is a fairly common problem, so there are several options for fixing it.

Follow the step-by-step instructions for these quick fixes so you can use your device again.

Fix #1: Recover Your Apple ID

The first fix is the simplest, so hopefully, it works for you. If you can’t remember your ID, go to the Apple website to recover it.

Step 1: Navigate to the Apple ID page on your device.

Step 2: Click on the “Forgot Apple ID or password?” link.

Step 3: The next page gives you a space to enter your Apple ID if you’re unable to sign in on your account. Since you don’t know the ID, click on the link below that allows you to look it up.

find apple id

Step 4: There is a prompt for your first and last names, as well as the email address you linked to the account. Enter everything and continue.

enter info to find apple id

Step 5: After submitting the information, you’ll see your Apple ID. At this point, if you don’t remember your password, you can go back to the main page and enter your ID to reset the password.

Fix #2: Use iCloud Removal Service

Your second option to unlocking your iPhone is to use an iCloud removal service. Many of these companies charge a fee, but it’s more affordable than buying a new phone.

To use this method, you need to know which iPhone model you have, as well as the IMEI number. Find the IMEI number on the Activation Lock screen as below.

find imei on hello screen

Look for a service to use to remove your activation lock. Most charge around $20 to $40. You’ll see free sites as well, but beware of scams. Some of the reputable companies include:

  1. AppleiPhoneUnlock
  2. IMEIdoctor
  3. IMEIUnlockSIM

On the company’s website, you’ll select the iPhone model and then input the IMEI number. Go ahead and pay for the service, and the company will notify you when they’re able to unlock your device.

It takes a couple of days to complete, so be patient.

Fix #3: Ask the Previous Owner for Help

If you’re using a second-hand iPhone from a friend or family member, ask them for help.

You won’t have to pay for an iCloud removal service because they can manually remove the device from their account.

Step 1: Ask the previous owner to log in on iCloud.com.

Step 2: From the main page, they’ll click on “Find iPhone.”

icloud find iphone

Step 3: Next, select “All Devices” at the top of the page. This will show all of the Apple products using the main iCloud account.

Step 4: Click on the iPhone you now own and select the option to remove it from the iCloud account.

icloud remove from account

Step 5: Restart your iPhone and set it up with your Apple ID. You’ll never see “The Apple ID cannot be used to unlock this iPhone” issue.

Fix #4: Unlock With Passcode

iPhones running on iOS 11 or higher have the option for two-factor authentication instead of using the iCloud login.

If the software version is 11 or above, you can use the passcode to unlock your phone. On the main screen, you’ll see “Unlock With Passcode.”

unlock icloud with passcode

Click this option and enter your passcode. Apple will send a single-use code to verify your identity before removing the activation lock.

Fix #5: Ask Apple for Help

customer support

After trying all of these options, you might have to go to Apple directly. Whoever bought the iPhone or iPad set it up using an Apple ID, so the company has proof of the account’s registration.

As a last-ditch effort, you can contact Apple to help you with your phone. Before reaching out to them, make sure you have proof that the phone is yours. If you can’t show them that you’ve bought the phone, they’ll think it’s stolen and won’t help you.

Proof of purchase can include a receipt from the buyer or even an email that passes ownership of the device to you. Make sure the information has the original owner’s name on it so Apple can verify their iCloud information.

If you have an Apple store nearby, you can take your iPhone there in person, along with proof of ownership. The company usually performs this service for free, but you have to acknowledge that the process might erase your data.

You can also call Apple Support and ask them to unlock the phone remotely. You’ll still have to prove you’re the owner, and they’ll look up the account to make sure the phone isn’t in Lost mode.


Being unable to access your iPhone is frustrating, but there’s no need to worry that you’ve lost everything. This happens to a lot of people who buy second-hand mobile devices.

You might also encounter the pop-up saying, “the Apple ID cannot be used to unlock this iPad/Apple Watch.” Thankfully, the same steps outlined for iPhones can work for the iPad and other Apple devices.

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Eric is an Apple Certified Independent Technician after gaining AppleCare service certifications for both iOS and Mac. He is passionate about helping people to make the most of their iOS devices.

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