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December 08, 2018

How To Buy A Used Phone Without Getting Scammed

How to buy a used phone without getting scammed.

There are so many things to look out for when buying a used device that has data capabilities. If you aren’t careful when buying second hand you might end up with an extremely expensive paperweight. Follow this guide to inform yourself as well as friends of things to avoid when buying used phones.


3 things to look for when buying a used phone:

1. iCloud lock or Google lock:

This is a very common one. Let’s say you buy an iPhone off of someone from craigslist. You look over the phone to make sure it’s in good condition and you press the power button to make sure it powers on. You suspect nothing and are happy with your new buy. Then you get home and start setting it up. One minute in and you get the dreaded iCloud lock screen prompting you to enter an iCloud account password. You just bought an iCloud locked paperweight. These devices are ONLY good for parts and nothing else. Anyone claiming they can unlock iCloud locked phones is lying. iCloud locked phones and Google locked phones work in pretty much the same way, you need the password from the previous owner to make them work properly.

When you use an apple or android phone It will commonly want you to link either your google or apple account. Nowadays it’s pretty much required that you link either account to your phone. The only issue is that now your account is semi-permanently tethered with that phone. Even factory restoring your phone doesn’t necessarily remove your account from the phone. To remove your google account or iCloud account you need to manually go into the settings and sign out, the other option is to go online to your google account or iCloud account and log out that way. A lot of the time people aren’t trying to scam you when they sell you an iCloud locked device, it’s an easy mistake to make.


How to avoid buying a iCloud/Google locked phone:

It’s pretty easy, if you’re buying the phone in person just run through the setup until you get to the home screen then go to the settings and make sure there isn’t any account logged in. The process is different for iPhones and androids. Follow my guide below for each.

iPhone --> Settings --> Scroll to very top --> Right under the search bar there is a spot for a circular profile picture and name for the iCloud account, make sure nobody is logged in.

Android --> Settings --> about this phone --> Navigate until you find the google login and make sure that nobody is logged in.

What if you’re buying the phone from someone online and you want to make sure it isn’t iCloud locked? This is simple too. First, ask the person you’re buying the phone from for the IMEI number. Once they give it to you go to to enter the IMEI and make sure “find my iPhone” is off. If find my iPhone is on, then that phone is iCloud locked. For Android devices the process isn’t as easy, there isn’t any service I know of that can instantly check if an android device is Google locked or not. But the good thing about buying online is that almost all platforms will give you a refund if the item isn’t as described. eBay, Mercari, Swappa, etc all stand behind their buyers 100%.


2. Financed phones

Buying a financed phone is so easy to do unless you know exactly what you’re doing. First, let me walk you through what a “financed” phone is. Surely, you’ve seen the popular “buy one get one free” advertisements. Many major phone carriers will have promotions like this to draw people in. The only issue is that you’re not truly getting anything for free.

Whenever you get a new phone and you don’t pay for it 100% outright then it’s financed. Only when that device is 100% paid off does the phone carrier release it from their financed status. So how does this affect you?

Let me paint a picture. Sally wants to impress all her friends by getting the brand-new iPhone Xr. She rushes down to the Verizon store and picks one up. A month later Sally realizes that her phone bill is super expensive and she’s struggling to pay all her bills. She posts her iPhone Xr on OfferUp and is only asking $500! Great deal, right?

Not so fast. The phone will look, smell, feel, and taste like the real thing but it isn’t! It might even work with your sim for a while but let’s say that Sally stops paying her bills. Verizon is going to cut that phone off from any data capabilities and when you call them they will tell you that the previous owner hasn’t paid their bills and that the only thing you can do to activate the phone again is to either pay off the outstanding balance on that account or to try and return it to the previous owner for a refund. Simply put, you’re screwed. At the end of this post, I tell you how to avoid buying financed phones.


3. Carrier locked phones

Most modern phones from the factory are GSM+CDMA unlocked and compatible. You should, of course, check the specific model of phone you’re buying and see if it’s only GSM, only CDMA, or compatible with both.

The issue comes when the device you’re buying is locked to a carrier. Let’s say you’re looking at upgrading to an iPhone 8. You read online that the iPhone 8 is GSM+CDMA compatible and you have Verizon which is CDMA, perfect. You buy the phone, get home, put your sim in and nothing happens. What gives? In this example let’s say that the person you bought the phone from was a sprint customer and their phone was locked to sprint. That means that the phone will only work on Sprint's network. If you want to unlock the phone you’ll need to get the previous owner to call sprint and have them release it from their network. The good thing is that even if you’re stuck with a phone that’s locked to another network it is still worth something. You can re-sell it and then get another phone that will work with your carrier.


How to avoid buying a financed/carrier locked phone

1. Meet up at an authorized phone carrier storefront.

If you’re meeting someone in person, then the best option by far is to meet at your phone carrier’s storefront. If you have Verizon, meet at an authorized Verizon store. The employees there will be happy to check over the phone you’re about to buy and make sure it’s good to go.

2. Call your phone carrier and get them to check the IMEI number of the phone you’re buying.

What is an “IMEI” number you might ask? Simply put it’s a unique identifier for each and every device with data capabilities. Every car has a VIN number and every phone has an IMEI number. What you need to do is ask the person you’re buying the phone from for the IMEI number. Once they give you the number call your phone carrier up and ask them if it checks out. Some phone companies have better customer support than others. If you aren’t confident in the information that they’re giving you then skip to step three.

3. Check the IMEI number through free online IMEI checkers.

There are a couple of IMEI checkers out there. To properly check your device, you’ll need to use at least two of them. First, go to Swappa’s free IMEI checker. It will show you if the device is blacklisted, stolen, and the activation status. If the device is blacklisted or stolen, then steer clear unless you plan on using it for wi-fi only or for parts. Swappa’s checker isn’t always 100% accurate. To double check, you’ll need to run a finance checker. will check financed statuses on AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. To check Verizon use If your carrier isn’t listed on any of these checkers, then I recommend you call your carrier and have them check the IMEI for you.



Buying a phone used is a great way to save money; unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as it should be. However, if you read this post from beginning to finish you’ll be fully equipped with the knowledge and tools to buy a phone second hand without getting scammed! If you’re planning on upgrading you can sell your old device and get some extra cash out of it. is a great service for this and offers higher prices than other major buyback companies.