Craigslist horror stories: What not to do when buying, selling, or trading used iPhones

Buying, selling, or trading iPhones on Craigslist can be a great way to make or save money, but also a great way to get scammed. How can you avoid a horror story? The iMore forums are here to help!

Thanks to a variety of factors, including good build quality, excellent support, and reliable update cycle, there's a healthy market for used iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. And while there are a number of ways to buy or sell and old iOS device, including through speciality resellers, Craigslist is one of the ways that comes up again and again, but with as many horror stories as success stories. So what goes wrong, and how can you avoid the hassles?

Another ad I responded to the seller no longer had his device due to him meeting with someone the night before and the potential buyer just grabbed the phone and ran off!- BLiNK, iMore forum genius

One of the main concerns is fraud. On the buyer's end, it can be tough to know if the iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad has been subject to internal damage from water or impact, or has been taken apart and put back together poorly or with shoddy replacement parts in the past. On the seller's end, there are all sorts of payment and shipping scams to worry about. Fake credit cards, fake PayPal accounts, fake shipping requests.

No matter what caveats you list in your ad, you will still get all of the "I kindly pay you $100 over your price to ship to my nephew on a religious retreat in Tibet. Just provide me paypal". All of the stories are the same. They just cut and paste.- finn5975, iMore forum member

Even if you follow our guide, and know how to check for water and other damage before you buy, it can still be 6 to 5 and pick 'em as to whether you get what you're paying for. It's surprising how many people can't even properly describe which model of iPhone they're selling or wanting to buy, or how pictures can fail to represent the actual quality of an item compared to real life. Being crystal clear about what you're selling, and looking for exactly you want to buy, can help avoid some measure of confusion. Or at the very least, set expectations. Confusion is the enemy of commerce.

In all of my ads I say "No emails will be read (because I list my google number), no offers others than listed price are considered currently, no paypal or other service other than cash will be accepted and item will not be shipped ANYWHERE".- scorpiodsu, iMore forums expert

This doesn't mean there's no room to negotiate, but that negotiations should take place ahead of time, and a price should be agreed upon in advance. That limits the chances for shady, last minute dealings, pressure tactics, and other problems. Also, to protect yourself from people trying to sell stolen or "found" phones, or to assure potential buyers they're not getting a stolen or "found" phone, insisting on paperwork and serial number checks is worth any possible time or inconvenience it might cause. If someone doesn't want to share information ahead of a sale, or asks and doesn't get it, it can be a sign that other things won't go smoothly during the transaction as well.

I always show paperwork with serial number to show when warranty expires. I don't hide anything. I want to buyer to be as confident as possibly can be. Part of it is asking the right questions before you meet. Ask to run the serial number on a Apples site before you meet.- Garz, iMore forums moderator emeritus

When it comes to meeting to close the sale, public, controlled places seem to work best. Nice, well lit commercial establishments seem the most popular. And never, not ever going alone. Of course, nothing is foolproof.

The guy told me his iPhone 4s was in new condition and insisted we meet at a Sprint store I went all the way down there made an appointment he showed up 30 minutes late with his dad turns out he was like 17 his phone looked like beat up crap and he then had the nerve to say he wanted to think about it and could we meet back there the next day.- xlipstickandbruisesx, iMore forum member

The bottom line is be straight forward with what you're selling or what you want to buy, establish a final price before hand, pick a safe place to finalize the deal, and if anything seems shady, it probably, so walk - or run - away. Never do anything under pressure, or to spare offense, or that makes you uncomfortable in any way.

Remember also, Craigslist isn't your only option. If you've had any experiences, good or bad, please share in the iMore forums!

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.