buy a used phone

5 Critical Things to Check Before You Buy a Used Phone

In Blog by Wassim Abdul Khalek2 Comments

Budget-friendly and contract-free, buying a used phone has become increasingly popular among phone consumers. To make the most of the great deal you scored, it’s critical to pay close attention to the phone’s overall condition to assure it’s at its optimum performance.

Equipped with the proper education through research and learning what to be conscious of, the allure of buying a used phone will be ever stronger. Here’s your own personal guide on how to successfully buy a used phone:

1. Beware of Fake/Replica Phones

fake phoneThe thing to be aware of first and foremost is fake phones. They are unfortunately quite common when you buy a used phone. What is a fake phone? It’s a phone that imitates the components (screen, logo, packaging, etc.) and appearance of a specific brand’s phone to make their products appear superior and most of all, authentic. This makes it hard for a new buyer to distinguish a real phone from a fake.

There are some obvious differences between the real and fake version of a phone. Examples are color, the size and/or spelling of the brand’s name and the placement of buttons.

Other times when you buy a used phone, the differences aren’t as obvious. To identify a fake iPhone, enter its serial number on Apple’s website. If the search results contain the phone’s model and warranty information then that means Apple has the serial number in their system. However, some replica phones have serial numbers stolen from genuine iPhones, which makes this method not very reliable.

To identify a fake Android, download the “Test Your Android” app. Again, the hardware of some replica phones match other real Android phones; the app’s results aren’t always accurate.

Your best bet, to prevent buying a fake phone, is to check in with an authorized phone dealer. They can validate a phone’s authenticity.

“They might have you fooled. Don’t send your grandma to buy an iPhone off of Craigslist, she might come back with a fake one.”

How To Spot A Fake iPhone, Lewis Hilsenteger, Unbox Therapy

2. Run Quality Control

Quality control involves a thorough examination of the entire phone. Reviewing the quality of all factors of the phone may seem daunting, but is a systematic and very educational way to understand the inner workings.

According to British magazine Mirror, 73% of people who buy a used phone are left worse off with a broken or fake device. Among the 52 phones bought from various online auction sites, “an O2 study found 33 were falsely advertised as ‘new’ or ‘refurbished’ with 24% arriving with broken screens and a damaged camera.”

buying a used phoneTo effectively examine your phone, start exteriorly. Check if the phone is bent from both sides, cracked or discolored.

Checking for internal malfunctions isn’t as obvious, but doable. Interiorly, check for screen issues such as touch responsiveness. Irregular or long-term cell phone use could result in pixel malfunctions. The best way to check for stuck or dead pixels is to hold your finger on any app until it moves. Slowly slide it all around the screen to see if all pixels are working. When there’re areas with dead pixels, an app will stop and not go over them.

Next, see how the phone battery life is. On the phone that you are testing, download the “Battery Life” app (iPhones) or “Battery” by MacroPinch (Androids). These tools indicate the percentage of wear in the cell phone’s battery.

Before you buy a used phone, you should also inspect the phone buttons and touch ID if the phone has this feature. Plug your phone into a charger to see if the charging port is functional. Play your favorite song and listen to the speakers for music. Test the front speakers and microphone by calling a friend or simply record your voice and then play it back.

Lastly, check if the phone has been exposed to water. On phones with removable batteries, there is usually a small, white patch behind the battery or near the SIM card slot. If it becomes wet, the patch will usually turn red and remain that way, even after drying.

On phones without a removable battery, like iPhones and newer Samsung phones, the indicator is often in the SIM tray opening, which also turns red when wet and does not change colors after drying.

“To find [where the moisture indicator is], do a Google search with the name of your phone and the phrase “moisture indicator.” Note: You may need a flashlight and a magnifying glass.”

How to buy a used phone, Mike Gikas, Consumer reports

3. Check for Activation Lock (iCloud/Google Account lock) 

As a security measure, people add an activation lock to their phones to keep all features in sync and up-to-date with data. A phone, iPhone or Android, can have an activation lock whether it’s in pre-setup mode, or even in post setup mode.

Here’s the difference:

activation lockPre-setup is when the phone is in the initial setup mode (asks for language, time, wifi, to insert a SIM, etc.). A pre-setup phone cannot be setup and used if it has an activation lock.

Post-setup is when the phone is active. A post-setup phone can be used as a normal phone. Just remember it cannot be erased, reset, nor can iCloud be cleared. As long as the phone is connected to the internet, the owner of the account it is registered to can wipe the phone clean, locking anyone out at all times.

Here’s how to prevent buying an “activation locked” phone:

  • If the phone is in the pre-setup mode, go through all the setup stages with the seller before purchasing.
  • If the phone is in the post-setup mode, go to settings and check if iCloud (on iPhone) or Google Account (On Android) is still linked to the phone. If so, ask the seller to log out from it before purchasing.

A phone with an activation lock can only be unlocked with the owner’s login credentials. If you have purchased a phone that is locked to the iCloud of a Google account, contact the seller and ask for their credentials. In the case that they are not comfortable giving them out over the phone, try arranging a meeting with them.

4. Avoid Blacklisted Phones

Blacklisting is the next important lesson in buying a used phone. Phones that are reported as lost or stolen get added to a shared national Blacklist and are then termed “blacklisted” phones.

blacklisted phonesLuckily, anyone can have access to the national Blacklist database. Before you buy a used phone, check if it is blacklisted by entering the phone’s IMEI number here.

Carriers take up to three months to blacklist a phone that is bought fraudulently. For that reason, it is best to request a Proof of Purchase for phones less than three months old.

If you bought a blacklisted phone, your best bet then is to sell it for parts on Kijiji, Ebay or Craigslist. You’ll be surprised how many people are avidly looking for parts to fix their phones.

5. Check Carrier Compatibility

When you buy a used phone, the last important step is checking your phone’s compatibility with your cell phone carrier. Freedom, for instance, is a Canadian carrier that uses AWS (Advanced Wireless Services), a frequency that only certain phones would work on.

Two ways you can check if the cell phone you would like to buy is compatible with your carrier:

  • If you happen to have a SIM card, insert it into the phone, and check for connectivity by making a call or sending a text.
  • Use Willmyphonework, a website where you can check if your cell phone is compatible with your carrier. Simply input your cell phone brand, model, sub-model, country and carrier you would want to use it on, and get the network frequency compatibility.

If you happen to buy a non-compatible phone, you can always unlock it using third party services such as or other reputable services for a small charge.

Become The Next Success Story

Take your time when buying a used phone. Listen to your gut with each vendor, and ask a friend or a phone specialist what they think. Sometimes, another eye can pick up on things we didn’t.

Though scams are very real, don’t let them dishearten you from the buying process. Ask any experienced used phone vendor, and they can vouch for their various successful experiences. If you take your time, do your homework and get expert advice, you’ll be another great story of a satisfied customer who wouldn’t go back to buying a new phone for anything.

Do you have stories to share or questions to ask about this topic? We’d love to read your comments!



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