By January 23, 2015

6 Tips from a Tech To Avoid Getting Burned When Buying A Used iPhone, iPod or iPad

by John Warren

You have seen them. iPads, iPhones, iPods for sale on Facebook Buy/Sell Groups, Craigslist, or you may know a friend who has a friend with one of the fore-mentioned devices for sale. As a shop owner, that repairs these devices daily, I’m approached by everyone who comes out of the woodwork trying to sell me a used device. But, what do you need to look for before buying that new iPhone or tablet?

A bit of caution, this article is primarily geared towards people that already have used/own an iPhone, iPad/iPod and are looking to buy or sell. If you’ve never owned one of these devices you may get a tad lost, but, I’m sure you can find a few worthy nuggets. And for first time buyers, be sure to print and share a copy of this with the “family geek” that may help guide you in the right path. Onward to the nitty-gritty.

*Below I’ll just write “device”, as an example, which means iPhones, iPads or iPods.

1. A Few Minutes of Price Checking Can Save Cash (and frustration)

In a FaceBook buy/sell/trade group, you may see an iPhone for $150. In many cases you can actually buy the same model (in mint condition) from companies such as Amazon and Swappa ( for a substantially lower price with the benefit of a no-hassle return. Always check swappa and Amazon used listings. Both companies are very competitive and list devices that have been (in my opinion) properly graded, priced, with full disclosure of any imperfections however minor. Why not E-Bay? One reason I avoid E-Bay for price checking is that auction listings are not the final selling price, nor in most cases, includes the price of additional shipping and insurance. The second is that unless you completely read every detail of an item for sale you can overlook defects in the description that impact the selling price, such as a broken power button, heavy scratches, and so forth.

Summary: Always use websites that have a fixed price to check the going rate before you buy (or sell). Don’t base prices on Auction sites where the item may not include additional shipping or has been discounted due to defects outlined in the very fine, fine, fine print.

2. Avoid the “Bling” That Is Included

Don’t let sellers lure you in with the offer of a “free case, charger”, etc, these are all disposable goods. These are usually cheap add-on’s that when offered makes it look like your getting a great deal, but, in fact are placed to lure the buyer away from defects or other issues that the device may have. If you see someone pushing “Includes Otterbox® or LifeProof® case, paid $50″, as a reseller those cases cost anywhere from $5-$40 brand new. Don’t let someone who paid retail for a case try to sell you the case at retail. Remember, don’t get baited & hooked with bling, focus on the expensive device you are buying and hype about “includes $100 case.”

Summary: Don’t get lured in by cases and accessories. Focus on the device. Without a working device the “bling” is useless.

2. Never Trust The Photos

There is not much to say about this. If you see a listing on FaceBook, or in any other ad, that uses a stock image (image from a catalog), beware! This means the seller is either too lazy to take a photo (and who doesn’t have a phone with a camera these days?) or they are setting you up to meet and will really put a sales pitch, heartbreak story, or anything to take your money.

Summary: Always ask the seller for a photo of the device you are buying. Never buy something where the photo looks too good to be true.

3. Go All CSI; Do A Background Check To See If  The Device Is Stolen

Before you buy an (Apple) device be sure to check online to see if the device has been reported stolen. There are several websites that offer free checks. Most ask for a serial number or an IMEI number. Don’t trust the numbers on the back, again, a clever thief can replace the back of the device which displays a different or no serial number. On your Apple device always tap on the Settings and About this Phone to display the serial number.

Apple has a free online tool that exists solely to verify whether or not a used iPhone has been locked down remotely by its rightful owner. Apple stolen device check.

All you need is the IMEI, ESN or the serial number. Punch one of those in, and it’ll tell you whether or not the device is activation locked, and whether or not it’s ready for a new Apple ID to sign in.

Summary: Always check the serial number (hey, it’s free) to see if the device has been reported stolen.

4. Don’t Buy A Brick! Make Sure The Device Has Been De-Activated from iCloud

If you test the phone and the phone prompts for a password and the seller says, “I will call you tomorrow, or when I get home with the password”, … RED FLAG. Do not give them any money and re-schedule, or if you feel uncomfortable with the seller,  just walk away from the deal.

$100 for an iPhone 5, Sounds like a good deal. When you meet the seller the phone has been wiped and ready to go. You hand over the cash, get home, and about the third setup screen you get asked a password for iCloud. Congratulations. You more than likely just bought a stolen phone and unfortunately, your stuck with it.

Even if Apple Does Not Show the Device as Reported Stolen or Has an Activation Lock (see 2. above) take the extra steps

Whenever you buy a NEW or genuinely wiped/erased device you’ll go through an initial setup screen. These screens typically will ask you to select your language, time zone, etc., just as though you bought the phone brand new off the shelf. If all is well, about the third screen, you will be asked to create a new iCloud account. On the other hand, if the box pops up with a screen that shows an existing e-mail address and asks for a password this means the phone is locked to to someones iCloud account.

At this point, ask the seller to enter the password. If the phone does not accept the password or the seller states they “forgot the password and will call you tomorrow”, do not give them any money, and simply ask them to remove the device from their Apple iCloud account and that you will re-schedule the sale.

Remember, if a device is locked to someone else’s Apple iCloud account that device must be removed from the account BEFORE you can set it up.

Summary: Even if the serial number check comes up clean, check the device to make sure it is not tied to an iCloud account. If the seller cannot instantly remove it, walk away and re-schedule the sale when the device has been disconnected from their iCloud account.

5. Check, Check and Double Check, Signs of A Faulty Device

Use this as a rough guide to checking the device before you buy it.

  • look for any dents or dings especially around the glass. (dents can incur higher repair fees)
  • power the device on and off.
  • press the power/sleep button once to put the device into sleep mode, again to wake it up.
  • play a song or video on the device, while testing the volume up and down buttons.
  • toggle the airplane (sound/vibrate) switch up or down to ensure both settings work.
  • check that both the front and rear cameras (and flash) are working.
  • make a phone call to test the ear speaker (top) and the microphone (bottom).
  • check, during a call, that the phone lights up while in your hand at waist level and the screen switches off when put up to your ear. (the display should go off and on as you go back and forth between waist level and your ear).
  • during a call switch the phone to speaker (conference) and back.
  • plug the device into a charger. on the screen watch the charging status if it doesn’t increase within 5-10 minutes the battery or charging circuitry is bad.
  • (with the phone unplugged from the charger) “play” with the phone for at least 15 minutes keeping an eye on the percentage of battery charge. If the charge percentage drops fast avoid buying, this could be a simple battery replacement or a sign of water damage.
  • while unplugged from the charger, and NOT IN A CASE, feel the device from the bottom, if there is excessive heat, avoid buying. All devices will be a bit warm, but, I’m talking excessive heat here.

Summary: Above is good generalized list of what to check. Don’t let the seller rush you. When in doubt, (hold on to your money) re-schedule and have the seller meet you at a registered and licensed repair shop — and have a pro check out the device. Most good techs will charge anywhere from $0 to $20 which may include anything from a quick check to a full diagnostics.

6. You Paid Cash. You Got A Deal. Get A Receipt!

No exceptions here. If you buy a used device get a hand-written or printed receipt even if the seller will not warranty it. Face it, what is sold is sold, but, the last thing you need is to give someone $200+ for a device to find out it is stolen or broken (ex. a device that may work for a few hours then shuts off).

Final Summary: Check the device serial number. Inspect the device for flaws. Have the user erase the device and go through the setup screens to ensure it is not locked to an iCloud account. When in doubt, call a professional tech and have the device inspected. Don’t forget to get a receipt!

Let’s Wrap This Article Up Already!

With this article I really didn’t want to get into a deep technical discussion and hopefully (even for the new folks that may have read through the article once or twice) provided some useful information that can guide buyers into what to look for and to look out for when buying used iPhones, iPads and iPods. In regards to sellers, I hope that I’ve equally opened up some new perspectives that will help you prepare your device for sale, earn some extra cash and avoid sellers remorse.

Best Regards,

John Warren
Country Computer Service, Vernon, Florida

Web: Country Computer Service

FaceBook: Country Computer Service



For questions regarding iPhone, iPad, iPod and computer repair (mac and windows/PC) feel free to contact me during normal business hours at (850) 849-1234 to schedule a consultation or repair.

Learn More About This Author


** iPod, iPad,iPhone and Mac are Trademarks of Apple, Inc.

Posted in: Local News, Tech