Is it safe to buy a used cell phone?

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One of the general concerns many people have before buying a used cell phone has to do with the element of safety. This is because meeting up with people or buying from auctions sites that are selling products online may seem risky to inexperienced buyers. 

With a little bit of due diligence, it’s now more possible than ever to safely buy a used cell phone online.

Should I buy a used cell phone?

There are several benefits to buying a used cell phone. One benefit is that it’s possible to save a great deal of money when purchasing a used cell phone. Sometimes, the combination of selling your current phone and then buying a used one can add hundreds of dollars to your wallet.

Another benefit of buying a used cell phone outright is that you and you alone will own your cell phone. It is true that you also own your cell phone outright if you pay all of the costs upfront, but if you choose to opt into a payment plan, you won’t be able to sell your phone or give it away until the phone is fully paid off. 

This doesn’t mean that a payment plan isn’t possible for a used cell phone.There are alternative payment plans for used phones through third party sellers, such as PayPal’s 0% APR interest plan, which is available on platforms like eBay.

What to check when buying a used phone

If you decide that you want to buy a used phone, there are multiple things you need to check before you make the purchase. The more items you can cross off your checklist, the more likely it is that you will have a positive experience when buying a used cell phone.

Always do your research

Conducting comparisons online is a great way to start your research. Glossing over the inventory of used phones on a site like eBay is also a great way to set the standard for buying a used phone online.

You’ll see that popular auction sites are a great way to figure out which companies offer protection plans, like SquareTrade, and which companies offer payment plans, like PayPal.

There are also a plethora of platforms out there, including Decluttr and Sell Cell, that specialize specifically in the cell phone space. These are great options, which you can also compare with mainstream auctions sites in terms of prices. Oftentimes, there will be a wider variety of content available to their customers, helping them to make the most informed decisions.

Read the description

Descriptions with more content often indicate that the buyer either has a better product or is at least being very upfront about what they are offering. Make sure the description is accurate and consistent all throughout. This includes the title, description, and item specifications.

If you come across an inconsistency, either message the seller or move on. Reading the description can help you stay informed and make better judgment calls about your decision. It can also help you to get a feel for the buyer and the product.

Buy from a trusted seller

Many sites have metrics to help you verify trusted sellers. Many platforms have integrated seller ratings directly into their search algorithms. Some apps like Offerup even integrate Google reviews directly within their platform.

Whatever platform you are using, try to see their method for verifying sellers. Some questions to ask when purchasing are: 

  • How many reviews does the seller have with positive feedback? 
  • How many items has the seller sold already? 
  • How many people are watching the item or interested in buying it? 
  • Does the seller have an online store or website listed? 
  • What other information is the seller providing to ensure confidence and safety?

These are all great questions to ask. But in general, there’s a lower risk associated with buying from a trusted seller.

Check the ESN number

An ESN, IMEI, or MEID number can be used to check if a phone is either currently under a contract or has been stolen. Most of the time, these numbers can be found within the general settings app of any cell phone.

It’s important to check the ESN number on a site like because a person who has had their phone stolen might have been able to activate a device protection feature that would subsequently render the phone unusable. 

The true owner may also be able to get the phone blacklisted from any carriers servicing the phone. Consumers, commercial entities, and law enforcement officers are all able to benefit from looking up the ESN, IMEI, or MEID number of a cell phone.

Ask about return policies

Before purchasing an item, one of the most important things to check is whether or not the seller offers a refund or has a return policy. The option of a refund can be an indicator that your item is coming from a trusted source, but because of the nature of buying used cell phones, this isn’t always the case.

A solid platform will have some functionality or feature that serves as a path towards getting a refund. Check to see if you can file a claim with the platform you are using, and always ask the seller or merchant about their refund policy as this is the quickest way to get one.

Know the model condition

There are certain terms that you should know in the reseller marketplace. Getting to know them will help you be knowledgeable about what you are actually buying. In most cases, a used cell phone will be listed in one of the following conditions:

  • A used cell phone means that it has had at least one previous owner.
  • A certified pre-owned phone means that it is used but was returned in compliance with a return policy. Sometimes, a pre-owned item will be certified or pass some standardized test. 
  • Refurbished means that it was sent back to the manufacturer because it was in need of repairs. 

Check to see if the platform you are thinking about buying from offers this information.

Find out if your carrier is compatible

Another benefit of knowing the ESN number is the ability to find out if your carrier will be compatible with the phone you’re thinking about buying. As mentioned before, you can use third-party tools or call your carrier directly. Obviously, if the phone is blacklisted, it will not be compatible.

Also, keep in mind that there are many different cell phone companies and not all of them work with each carrier. If you are using a phone that isn’t as widely popular in the United States and you’re not using one of the big four carriers, then you should run a check against the country, manufacturer, and carrier.

Calling your carrier directly is another great way to verify the compatibility of the cell phone.

Locked or unlocked

Carriers sometimes lock phones so that their company is the only one that can provide you with wireless service. That being said, a carrier will unlock your phone for free if you ask them to do so. Platforms and sellers should provide information about whether or not the phone is locked as part of the listing. 

Some phones are sold as carrier-specific phones, while other phones are sold as unlocked. If you are purchasing a used phone and you want to be able to use the carrier of your choice, it is best to purchase an unlocked phone. The easiest way to narrow down your search is by looking for a multi-brand unlocked smartphone. That way, it won’t matter which carrier you use.

Consider the software

The two biggest names in software when it comes to cell phones in the USA are Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Different operating systems have different compatibility levels with different applications.

For example, the Snapchat app for Android devices was much different than the app on iOS devices for the longest time. The company had to do a complete overhaul of their app to make certain filters and functionality work within the app on Android devices. 

Android is currently the world’s most commonly used operating system for smartphones. However, software is constantly being updated, so you’ll want to make sure your phone is compatible with current apps and operating systems.

Inspect the phone

No matter where you buy a used cell phone from, always inspect the phone. Whether you’re buying it in person or you receive it in the mail, look for any damages or mechanical issues that are not listed in the description. 

Make sure you give it a full visual inspection before you turn it on and start diving into the phone’s functionalities. Check for scratches on the screen, whether or not the buttons (if any) are operable, and if the camera has sustained any damage. 

When you turn the phone on, keep an eye on the battery and power usage levels. This is especially crucial when purchasing an Android phone as there are no battery health options like there are with iPhones.

Communication is key

There are many procedural steps you can take to ensure you are safely buying a used phone from an online retailer or independent seller. It’s best to always message the seller directly to get a feel for how the individual or store does business. 

Always ask any questions you have if the answers aren’t provided in the description, and if possible, ask for a receipt from the seller. With so many platforms to buy from, you’ll likely be able to save money when purchasing a used cell phone while getting the exact same experience as you would from a brand new phone.


Is buying a used phone worth it?

Depending on your needs, buying a used cell phone can definitely be worth the time it takes to do your research. You can save hundreds of dollars after only a little bit of investigation.

Should I buy a used cell phone?

If you enjoy deals and you want to own your phone outright without paying the retail price, then you should consider purchasing a used cell phone. Buying a used cell phone is a great option for those looking to save money. There are many model options available on many different platforms, which makes it easy, safe, and affordable to purchase a used cell phone.

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