What To Watch Out For When Buying A Used Mobile Phone

What To Watch Out For When Buying A Used Mobile Phone

by Gary Oldwood on 24 October 2016 · 2064 views

There are two main methods for getting a decent mobile phone cheaply. You could either buy one from a Chinese seller online, or look for a used device in classified ads, where you can find devices in excellent state at very low prices. Since buying a used phone has certain risks, here is what you should look for so that you don’t regret your purchase afterwards.

Is a used phone worth it?

Getting a used mobile phone (and purchasing used items in general) will rarely be the first choice of a buyer. Apart from the fear for the product’s quality, some people also have several "sentimental" reasons, which prevent them from considering this option. For example, the smell of new plastic, or the removal of the visor is a unique feeling for most people.

However, apart from these hesitations, picking a second hand mobile phone carefully can save you a lot of money.

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Following the instructions listed below, you can ensure the reliability of both the seller and the product, as well as avoid any scams.

Types of sellers

Before you get in contact with a seller, it is important to make sure that the used mobile for sale was not obtained from any illegal activity.

Based on the way the device was obtained, you can classify sellers into three basic categories.

Simple sellers

Ordinary sellers make up the vast majority of ads and attract most buyers. As a result, several people get themselves "camouflaged" as ordinary sellers to defraud gullible users.

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Practically, there are more chances to get tricked by someone who is supposedly a simple seller, rather than someone who admits that the device is stolen.


Many of us have met some merchants who sell dozens of sealed mobile phones at different websites and forums. Although our first thought may be that the devices are stolen from a mobile shop, the truth is usually quite different.

The specific vendors usually order individual devices from third countries at low costs, for alleged personal use. But in essence, they have a virtual store through their ads, which is used for tax evasion.

Vendors of this type rarely deceive buyers, but it’s better to opt for a legitimate shop which can issue a receipt, and subsequently a product warranty.


In the past, many people chose to buy a stolen cheap mobile phone, despite the ethical and legal consequences of such an act.

Nowadays, buying a stolen device is still unethical, but is also riskier, since the owner has the right and ability to lock the IMEI number.

The IMEI is a unique 15-digit number that represents the identity of your device and is given by the manufacturer.

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Communicating with your carrier after your mobile has been stolen can permanently lock the IMEI, disabling the device.

What you should watch out for during purchase and payment

Apart from the basic checks that you should perform after buying the device (read below), it is important to keep in mind some very basic steps before buying. These actions will help you avoid frauds, plus keep you covered in case that you fall victim anyways.

Receipt, warranty, IMEI

Before you buy a used mobile phone, make sure that the seller will give you the legal receipt of the device.

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Even if the warranty has expired, the receipt will show that the mobile has been acquired legally.

In no case should you accept copies of receipts, since they are systematically used for fraudulent actions.

Many scammers forge the receipt or the settings of rooted devices, so that the IMEI of a valid receipt matches one of many mobile devices, without any kind of product guarantee.

However, if the mobile becomes damaged, the buyer will be surprised when the manufacturer will not accept any warranty for that device.

Both types of fraud are particularly simple and easy to perform, and those who are unaware of these situations can easily fall victims.

The only IMEI that you can trust is the one indicated on the original receipt, and the IMEI that is located inside the device, usually under the battery (if it is removable).


If the transaction is done physically, a very convenient meeting location is a bank or a post office. This way both you and the seller can make sure that the money is not forged, and avoid any scenarios where the seller claims that the money is counterfeit.

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On the other hand, if you receive the device by post, you should require that the payment is made on delivery.

Under no circumstances should you pay with Western Union, since that service gives you no right to request a refund, and is often used by fraudsters.

Information in case of fraud

One of the first things you should ask before meeting the buyer is a landline phone number, which you should confirm. Avoid mobile phone numbers because fraudsters often use them to make it harder to get detected.

It is also important to take a screenshot of the ad, as well as all your messages and conversations, so that the seller will not be able to deny anything of what he said.

Basic device checks

After confirming the reliability of the seller, you should check the reliability of the device.

The key checks that you need to perform in a used mobile phone are:

  • Check the device’s frame for dents which indicate a drop. Scratches are not as important at a reasonable level.
  • Carefully look at the screen for scratches, and test it with maximum brightness setting. Also, tap on all points of the screen to see if there is a response to touch inputs.

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  • Test all the buttons of the device.
  • Insert a SIM card and see if the device can connect to the network normally (calls and network data).
  • Test the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functions.
  • Test the device’s gyroscope, either by rotating the device, or by using a compass app.
  • Use the GPS to check if it responds to movement.
  • Try playing music and creating a recording to check the functionality of the speaker and microphone.
  • Test the cameras.
  • Check the water sensor, which is usually located next to the battery. If it’s red, it means that water has been dropped on the device.

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  • Check if the battery is authentic and isn’t “swollen” or rusted. If the device is older than one year, it is likely that you will need a new battery.
  • Connect the device to the charger and check if it works.
  • Connect a pair of earphones to see if the audio jack works fine.
  • Check one of the device’s screws. Usually, the devices’ screws have a small touch of paint on them, which frays if they get unscrewed and screwed again. If there are paint residues on the screw, it means that the device has been opened in the past.

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Have you ever bought a used device? What are your experiences, thoughts and suggestions? Let us know in the comments section below!

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