What to Do Before Buying a Used Smartphone

As expensive as smartphones can be, finding deals on used phones can be tempting, but a Virginia man’s experience serves a warning to others to be very thorough when considering purchasing a used phone.

James Monroe of Falls Church decided to get a new iPhone and give his mother his older one.

"We desperately wanted to put an iPhone into my mother's hands," Monroe said.

He found several deals for iPhone 8 on Craigslist.

“They were all less than a month old, still under warranty, this is perfect,” he said.

He said he saw an ad for an iPhone 8 for $625 and unlocked, which is important because a locked phone is useless to a buyer. It can mean the carrier locked the phone for non-payment or the original owner locked the phone because it was stolen.

“So my first text message to them was, ’Hey, what's the catch?’” he said.


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He said the seller said “no catch” and texted Monroe the phone’s ID number so he could verify it.

“They showed me the phone and the box and all of the cables, everything that came with this device,” he said.

But after hours on the phone with tech support and a trip to Apple, Monroe said he was told his used phone was locked.

“I eventually found out when I went to the carrier’s store that they had bought it on a payment plan and had not finished paying it off,” Monroe said.

Unless the original seller pays the bill or gives permission to unlock the phone, the carrier has no ability to unlock the phone.

CTIA, a trade group for the wireless communications industry, told NBC4 Responds bad sellers are all over the internet trying to rip off unsuspecting  buyers.

NBC4 Responds called the seller, but the number was not in service.

The carrier that locked the phone was sympathetic to Monroe's case but told NBC4 Responds it legally could not unlock the phone for him.

Before buying a used phone, you need to have a SIM card. Insert it into the phone and if the phone is unlocked you'll be able to connect to iTunes or Google Play, make a call, and launch a browser like Firefox or Google Chrome.

Ask the seller for the phone's IMEI number, which is similar to a serial number. You can find it by dialing *#06# on your smartphone, then run the number through Stolen Phone Checker.

Reported by Susan Hogan and shot and edited by Perkins Broussard.

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