Tech talk: Good title and the istone


SWL reporters look at what to do if you’ve unknowingly bought stolen technology.


By Nathan Blades and David Horsfall

When James Ingham, the proprietor of Restaurant Uno, Pimlico, purchased his Apple iPhone over eBay, he was looking forward to face time with his olive supplier in Calabria (and tweets from his stockbroker).

What he didn’t count on was the iPhone being locked. A locked phone usually means one thing – it’s stolen goods. Naturally, Mr Ingham telephoned eBay and asked what to do, as staying in Pimlico sounded better than HMP Wandsworth. Their advice was to send it back – and the money would be refunded through PayPal. That, or handing in the phone to the police.

In case there was a way to resolve this and still keep the phone, he then thought to telephone Apple. They appeared willing to simply register the phone in his name. For a third opinion, a call to his phone service provider about a solution to his locked phone told him that they possibly had people on call to unlock phones. Interesting.

So what should you do upon buying stolen technology? No longer are we confined to getting illegal second-hand goods from the backs of vans, when we can get them over the internet instead. Of course, you’re not likely to know straight away that you’re being fenced something when buying products over the internet – so are you still a criminal?

It turns out no – at least not straight away. According to the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, the original owner of the item has something called ‘Good Title’. Put simply, it means they’re still the genuine owner. Even if you’ve paid for a stolen item seemingly legally, you do not gain Good Title. What they (somewhat obviously) advise is to turn the item over to the police the moment you realise it’s stolen.

But that method doesn’t necessarily guarantee your money back. So what about contacting eBay? While our friend above was told by eBay that they would refund him the money if he returned the item, according to the site’s policy page [], they also advocate telling the police before all else, with no mention of refunding.

Mr Ingham’s phone service wasn’t too outlandish by offering a phone unlocking service. The ability to unlock phones is less rare than you’d expect, with businesses both on the ‘net and on the high street able to crack technology with ease. It’s not an ethically-advised action if you happen to be in Mr Ingham’s situation, and it definitely won’t give you Good Title.

What did Mr Ingham decide to do?

“I am concerned that manufacturers and providers are not properly checking phones are stolen,” he said. 

“I am going to hand the phone in to the police and paint a stone with an “I” on it, and send it to the eBay seller”.

Photo courtesy of  apasp, with thanks.

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