What To Do Before Buying or Selling a Used iPhone
8 Point Checklist for Dealing with Used iPhones
Should I buy a refurbished iPhone from an authorized reseller and pay their premium or should I look for a cheaper phone sold by someone online/offline? What do I do if I want to sell my phone?
Selling and buying second-hand iPhones is a good way of recycling still functioning units. Regardless if you’re selling or buying, you help reduce waste and the need for manufacturing new products. Buying a used iPhone is a good option if you’re on a budget whereas selling a used iPhone fills your wallet. Dealing with second-hand iPhones may seem like a risk but if you know what to do before buying/selling it’ll be a lot easier.
I’ve narrowed down 8 important things to know/do before selling or buying a used or (non-authorized) refurbished iPhone.
Here is a quick list of the steps:
- Make sure the iPhone is not a knock-off and has a clean IMEI.
- Visually inspect the device and test it.
- Check for liquid damage.
- Check the battery’s health.
- Make sure “Find my iPhone”-function is turned off.
- Log out from iCloud.
- Reset the device (delete all data and settings).
- Proof of purchase (receipt).
Some of the references and images below are iOS specific. At the time of writing this article, we’re running iOS 11.4 on our iPhone. Newer or older iOS versions may have certain settings elsewhere or the names may be different. If you’re unable to find the settings we mention below, it’s possible to search for a certain setting by swiping right (going left) on your iPhone:
1. Check if the iPhone is legit and with a clean IMEI (primarily for buyers)
Fake phones, as well as stolen phones, are everywhere and we do not want to waste our hard earned money for such a device.
Fake iPhones do not run on iOS (Apple’s mobile software) but run on Android that is customized to look and even run, at some degree, like iOS. It’s easy to check if the phone is running on Android by simply opening the Maps app or App Store. If the map app shows Google Maps (instead of Apple Maps, and there is no Apple Maps app at all) then the device runs on Android. Alternatively, if you check App Store, Google Play will come up. If you have access to a computer with iTunes installed, you can plug in the phone and wait if iTunes detects it. If it doesn’t, then the phone is fake.
If the phone you eyeing to purchase is a stolen unit, chances are you won’t be able to use it as the owner would have blocked it. Once the unit has been blocked, it's going to be one expensive paperweight. A blocked phone is nothing but a video/music player as cellular networks won’t work on a blocked unit.
You can tell if the device is clean and not blacklisted by checking the IMEI. The IMEI is a unique phone identifier and once the IMEI is reported blacklisted, the phone will not be able to use any cellular networks. You can Google search several websites that can look up information if your device has been blocked or blacklisted. Dial *#06# on your phone, just like any number you’d like to call and it will show the IMEI number. You can also find the IMEI number in Settings > General > About > IMEI
Here’s one site you can use to check the IMEI:
2. Visually inspect and test the entire device (when buying/selling offline)
This is naturally something everyone should do but believe it or not, some people are so trusting that they wouldn’t bother to make a careful inspection of the device.
So what exactly does one do?
Well, check if there are obvious physical defects. Paint fades and minor scratches are normal considering that the phone is already a used one. Be on the lookout for cracks and dents as these are indicators that the device was bumped or probably fell. Check the buttons and their functions as well. Test the cameras and observe the touch screen responsiveness. Test the headphone jack, the speakers and the microphone too. If you can, try to charge the phone as well. Despite it being a used phone, you still want it to be completely functioning. So inspect every detail and make sure that each function is in proper order.
3. Check if the device has been exposed to liquid
Apple makes certain things so simple. Liquid contact indicators are found in all Apple devices. Here is a link to Apple’s website that shows these locations.
Damage will occur to a device that has been in contact with water. If the phone has suffered liquid damage, the indicator will be red. It’s white by default. The phone may have fallen into water or placed in a moist location that tripped the indicator. If the indicator shows that the device was in contact with water, it is advised to have it checked by a tech or look for another phone to purchase. It’s too risky to spend money on something that will possibly fail.
4. Check the battery
Oh yes, the heart of any device. Check the device’s battery health in settings and check if it’s still “healthy”. You can do this by going into Settings > Battery > Battery health. If the device is around 2 years old, the battery health of around 80% is to be expected.
If the battery is worn out, it should be replaced for the phone to run at maximum capacity. While a bad battery doesn’t mean the phone as a whole is a bad purchase, it just tells us that it’ll require additional investment to get it running well.
We, ScandiTech, sell replacement batteries for iPhones and if you’re a bit tech savvy you can replace the battery on your own for around $25. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it on your own, repair shops typically charge around $50-60 to get the job done, including the battery. Apple’s battery replacement program has ended for most iPhone models and the typical cost to have Apple’s official technicians replace the battery is once again $80.
You can also ask the owner if the battery has been replaced before and if so, ask if it’s from a reputable company. There are a lot of 3rd party iPhone parts sellers out there and one really has to make sure that the parts replaced are from a good source.
5. Turn OFF “Find my iPhone”
Find my iPhone is a very clever feature which, when enabled, lets you track your phone. If you’re not sure where you placed it, you can locate it through Apple’s iCloud site:
Before you buy or sell a used iPhone, it’s crucial to turn off this feature as it’s password protected. If you, as a seller, do not log out, the buyer will not be able to log on. Your data is also stored in a phone that you’re no longer in control off so, once again, disable Find my iPhone! This needs to be done manually as a complete reset of the device will not remove the Find my iPhone account.
6. Log out all accounts
Other accounts are likely also used or associated with the phone. It could be the iCloud account, a Gmail/Google account, etc.
Go to Settings > Accounts & Passwords, then log out all accounts in the list by selecting each account then “Sign out” or “Delete account”.
7. Reset the iPhone (all remaining data will be deleted.)
Both from a seller’s and buyer’s perspective it’s preferable to hand over an empty device with no remaining data. You wouldn’t want other people to look at your pictures or passwords or vice versa. To delete all remaining info and settings, go to:
Settings > General (scroll way down) > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings.
8. Proof of purchase
When buying a fairly expensive product second hand it’s natural to feel a bit uneasy. To feel more secure as a buyer and better prevent any future issues, it’s a good idea to ask for the original receipt. However, few of us are good at organizing paper and receipts. Asking for the receipt of a several years old device may be a tough ask. If the original receipt is unavailable, writing a handwritten receipt or sales contract between seller and buyer also offers some legal security. Include the seller’s name, buyer’s name, date, place, the phone’s model, IMEI (dial *#06# and the phone will show its unique number) and sales price.
A not too uncommon scam in both US and EU with second-hand iPhones is that the (fraudulent) seller of the device will sell it used to someone then report it stolen a couple of days later. When the device is reported stolen, the IMEI number gets blocked and the phone will no longer be able to connect to the cellular network (3G/4G/LTE).
The seller who reported it stolen will pocket the money from the sale of the used device and get a new phone through insurance. The buyer is left with a phone that can’t make calls or receive text messages, as mentioned in the very first point in this article.
This scam is less common with older devices which have dropped in value (<$200) but it’s still good to be aware and alert.
Buying offline or online. Certain sites, like Amazon, offer so-called officially refurbished iPhones. These phones have been repaired by authorized companies and come with a receipt and warranty. This is a safe way of buying a used phone. The price for these “officially refurbished” phones tend to be somewhere in the middle of a new phone and a used phone that is sold by an individual.
Ebay, Craigslist, or even apps like Offerup are places that primarily offer phones sold by individuals. Usually at a good price but not risk-free.
With all these in mind, you should be able to buy or sell a good pre-owned iPhone however, this is still no guarantee. There is always a risk.
Here are some red flags of a shady seller:
- Never deal with someone who “sells for a friend” - Always buy from the owner himself and not from a middle man. The device being sold is possibly stolen.
- Always meet up in person - If the owner is selling a good item, he/she would be willing to see you up front and show you the device themselves.
- If possible, always close the deal face to face - It’s always better to check the phone physically with the owner and pay after the device is confirmed working.
- Be wary of unbelievably cheap phones - It’s probably fake, stolen or just simply a bad phone.
I hope this has brought some clarity in the jungle that is used/second-hand iPhones. We’d like to believe that most people out there are good at heart and want to do the right thing. But we also know the world can be a cruel place and one shouldn’t be too trusting. Better safe than sorry!