What is an IMEI number? The VIN of the mobile world
If you’ve ever looked at used cars, you know the importance of running a vehicle identification number (VIN) check before you commit to anything. This little 17-character string says a lot about the car you’re looking at.
If you’ve ever sold a used car privately, you know that the VIN is among the first things a serious buyer will ask for. Providing it shows you’re acting in good faith. Not providing it is probably a deal breaker.
The mobile phone world has an analog to automotive VIN. It’s called the IMEI. What that stands for isn’t important for this discussion, though you may sometimes see different initialisms (MEID, ESN) for what is, in effect, the same idea: A unique identifier that says a lot about a device.
tl;dr: Used device buyers: Always ask for the IMEI. Don’t buy without it. Used device sellers: If a buyer asks for a phone’s IMEI and seems cool, provide it.
The easiest way to find the IMEI of just about any smartphone is by simply opening the phone dialer and inputting *#06#. The IMEI will pop up on the screen. Here’s the same information in animated GIF form (the best of all the forms).