Everything You Should Know About Your IMEI Number

IMEI numbers are a source of both mystery and paranoia within many circles around the internet. While these numbers are typically associated with phones, they’re not exclusive to these devices. The first time you see this ever-present number stamped on every phone you have ever bought, you start to get curious and ask yourself some questions. While you search for answers, you either run into misleading articles about them or information that tends to be incomplete. Finding the answers to your questions doesn’t have to be difficult anymore.

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The International Mobile station Equipment Identity number (IMEI) is a number used to identify a device that uses terrestrial cellular networks. “And what is a terrestrial cellular network?” you may ask. This is the network you use when you place a call on your cell phone or access an internet connection provided by your cellular carrier through your data plan. It’s called “terrestrial” because it uses planet-side antennas, not satellites, to connect.

You may have already gathered this, but it’s handy to have a definitive answer to the question. Since the IMEI standard is used for any terrestrial cellular network device, this means that 3G/4G tablets, laptops with PCMCIA wireless internet cards, and other mobile equipment are also tagged with these numbers. If you have a dual-SIM phone, you’ll see two IMEI numbers, one for each SIM slot.

IMEI numbers have one principal purpose: to identify mobile devices. Their secondary purpose, or intention, is to prevent theft. If a mobile device can be universally identified, a thief cannot change the SIM card on a phone and expect to keep the phone. IMEI numbers are hard-coded into device hardware, making it nearly impossible to change them without somehow damaging the device.

When a carrier knows that a device has been stolen, it can blacklist the IMEI code and lock it out of the network. Later on, it tells other cellular networks to do the same.

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Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: It depends. If they can’t attach a name or some form of personal identification to your IMEI number, they don’t know who your phone really belongs to. This is often the problem with prepay customers. Since they don’t sign contracts with their wireless carriers, there’s no way to attach a face or ID card to the IMEI number. The process of doing so is tedious, at best.

If you have a contract with a mobile carrier, the government could use a search warrant to access your IMEI information for number and location tracking. So, even if you swap out your SIM card with a prepaid one, you can still be traced. We’ll discuss this at length in another post.

Government is not the only entity you should worry about. Hackers can trace you if necessary using your IMEI number. However, neither of these things happen very often to the average citizen.

Since counterfeit phones aren’t made with regulatory compliance in mind, they often lack IMEI numbers. In 2010, India has encountered problems with these devices, and has tried to counteract the issue for years. So, the answer to the question is, “Yes, some devices do not have IMEI numbers, but they are often illegal.”

There are also rumors that special agencies of governments around the world use IMEI-less devices to avoid being traced by counter-intelligence black ops.

Some counterfeit phones have bad IMEI numbers. The easiest way to check the validity of an IMEI number manually is by using the Luhn formula for verification of identification codes. If you want an easier way to check your IMEI, there’s always the online checker at IMEI.Info.

If there’s anything that has helped us stop thieves in their tracks most effectively, it’s the IMEI standard. While the number could still be used against you, it’s well worth the risk.

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