Want to Buy a Used iPhone? Here's What to Check

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Want to Buy a Used iPhone? Here's What to Check
Graphic by Nathaniel Blum/Photo by Vector/Shutterstock

If your phone has been broken, lost or stolen, then your sorrow may only deepen when you see what it costs to replace the device. The prices of brand-new iPhones can range from as little as $449 for an iPhone 7 up to $1,449 for an iPhone XS max. With those prices, you may want to explore your other options.

While buying a used iPhone may save you a lot of money, there are plenty of pitfalls. Here’s how to buy a used iPhone without getting ripped off.

Buying an iPhone used vs. refurbished: What’s the difference?

It’s easy to get confused about the differences between used and refurbished iPhones, so it helps to understand the basic terminology before diving into the process.

Refurbished iPhones

Refurbished iPhones go through extensive testing and repairs before they are resold. “They work like new and are usually sold for a fraction of the cost of a brand-new iPhone,” said Liz Hamilton, director of people and customers at Mobile Klinik.

Someone removes the data, restores the phone’s original settings and may add parts so it works like new. These phones go through tests to make sure the software and hardware work properly.

If you buy a refurbished iPhone from Apple, you’ll get a new battery, a new outer shell and a one-year warranty. The company will test the phone’s functionality, replace necessary parts and clean the product. You will get the original operating system or a more recent one. Plus, Apple will throw in a new box with accessories and cables and provide free shipping and returns. Apple’s refurbished iPhones may save you anywhere between $70 and $220.

Used iPhones

The problem with used iPhones is there isn’t a standard definition of what “used” actually means. Websites like eBay or Amazon may have some basic requirements, such as specifying the difference between “like new” or “good” condition. But when you buy an iPhone from a marketplace like Craigslist or Facebook, it may be tough to know what you are getting.

Hamilton said used iPhones that are not Apple-certified may not go through the same testing and cleaning with new parts installed. “You can buy a used iPhone from just about anyone who is willing to sell you one,” she said.

Don’t buy before reviewing this used iPhone checklist

When you are without an iPhone, you may want to move quickly to get a replacement. But this could be a costly mistake. Avoid buyer’s remorse by following this checklist.

  • Check the battery. The battery should be new or have at least 80% of its life left.
  • Ask for complete product details. If you don’t have easy access to the product details, don’t hesitate to ask about the color, storage, memory, size and condition of the iPhone. Confirm the previous owner’s data is gone. The phone shouldn’t need a password and shouldn’t be connected to someone else’s iCloud account.
  • Make sure the iPhone is unlocked. If you are loyal to a particular cellphone carrier, make sure your iPhone is compatible with that carrier. Your best bet is buying an unlocked device, which will be compatible with all carriers.
  • Make sure the iPhone isn’t stolen. This is critical because iPhones that are reported as stolen are disabled, and you won’t be able to use them. Hamilton said you can check a blacklist before you buy it (more on that below).
  • Inspect for hardware damage. If you are buying an iPhone online, there should be plenty of photos—not stock images—to check for hardware damage. Once you have the device in hand, check for any issues not mentioned in the listing.
  • Look for a warranty. When buying a refurbished iPhone, always try to get a warranty. For some added protection, ask your credit card company if it will extend the coverage.
  • Make a note of the return policy. Ask about the seller’s return policy upfront. Make sure you have plenty of time to inspect and use the iPhone without missing their deadline.

How to make sure your used iPhone isn’t stolen

Before buying a refurbished or used iPhone, check to make sure the seller owns it free and clear. If someone steals an iPhone and the owner reports it, Hamilton said it may not be usable. If your device is on a blacklist, you can’t receive calls and texts or use data.

To make sure your iPhone is safe, ask for the phone’s IMEI or MEID number. This depends on the carrier. From there, you can plug the number into Stolen Phone Checker. Once you hit “Submit,” you will receive a brief report of whether your phone is lost or stolen.

Where to buy a used iPhone

Once you start shopping for a used or refurbished iPhone, you may feel overwhelmed by all the options. Look for online or brick-and-mortar stores selling certified preowned (CPO) iPhones, Hamilton said. They should be willing to share their company’s standard restoration process.

“A reputable reseller won’t let you down. Many of them will offer warranties in the event that the phone still does not perform as expected,” she adds.

Regardless of where you buy your iPhone, don’t be afraid to ask questions. These are some of the most popular places to buy a used or refurbished iPhone:

  • Apple: If you’re looking for a refurbished iPhone, buying directly from Apple is a good option. The one-year warranty may offer you peace of mind. Sample price: refurbished unlocked iPhone 7 Plus 32GB Silver - $479
  • Cellphone carriers. Many cellphone carriers also sell refurbished iPhones. For example, Verizon sells certified preowned devices and offers a total quality inspection and a 90-day warranty. But you should shop around before buying because the selection, pricing and warranty may not be competitive. Sample price: certified preowned iPhone 7 Plus 32GB Rose Gold - $354.99
  • Gazelle. Gazelle is a third-party site that buys and sells iPhones. Gazelle Certified iPhones pass a 30-point function and cosmetic inspection. The company also offers a 30-day return policy. Sample price: Gazelle Certified unlocked iPhone 7 Plus 32GB Rose Gold - $389
  • Decluttr. If you are looking to sell your old iPhone and buy a used one, Decluttr may be worth considering. The company sells used iPhones with a 14-day money-back guarantee and a 12-month limited warranty. Sample price: refurbished unlocked iPhone 7 Plus 32GB Black - $346.99
  • Amazon. The Amazon Marketplace is another popular place to buy and sell iPhones. You will see a variety of sellers from Apple to third-party stores. The products and return policies will vary. Sample price: renewed iPhone 7 Plus 32GB Rose Gold - $378.98
  • Swappa. Swappa is another site for third parties to buy and sell. It has minimum requirements for sellers to list iPhones. Some sellers may offer a 30-day warranty. Products may be eligible for PayPal Purchase Protection. Sample price: used, unlocked iPhone Plus 7 32GB - $295
  • eBay. EBay is a popular place to buy and sell new, used and seller-refurbished iPhones. But there will be a big difference between seller reputations and also the age and condition of available iPhones. EBay offers a money-back guarantee for broken or faulty products. You may find better deals on eBay, but not all sellers offer a warranty. Sample price: seller-refurbished unlocked iPhone Plus 7 32GB - $299

If you decide to buy a used or refurbished iPhone from an individual, doing a background check never hurts. A people search service may share insight on exactly who you are dealing with.

Search a full background report on a person

Be careful when buying a used or refurbished iPhone

The problem with buying a used or refurbished iPhone is there are no guarantees the device will work as promised. Even with a warranty, you may not have long to make sure the product isn’t faulty. But if you manage to buy an iPhone with no defects or other problems, it could save you hundreds of dollars. With a little diligence, you may be less likely to get swindled—leaving more cash for your other priorities.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.

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