To find out if a serial number has been stolen on an item, search for the serial number online, give the serial number to the manufacturer or contact local law enforcement to trace recently reported thefts, the FCC suggests. Ask for the serial number from the seller before purchasing an item.
Serial numbers provide unique markers for equipment such as phones, according to Wired. To avoid purchasing a stolen phone, Wired suggests contacting the phone's manufacturer directly.
For example, Apple offers iPhone users serial number tracking services, TechCrunch states. When someone steals an Apple product, the original owner contacts the company to report the device as stolen. Apple updates the serial number in its database, and when new buyers search for the serial number, the company informs the new buyer that the device is stolen.
Companies such as Trace provide free serial number tracking services for stolen goods. Search for the serial number on the website's database to determine whether it was reported as stolen.
The FCC says original owners need to contact law enforcement officials when an item is stolen for serial number databases to work effectively. When the item is reported as stolen to the police, the police department keeps a log of the item's serial number. Contact the local police department by phone to ask whether it has information on a stolen serial number matching the item.