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.

  • One thing I've learned selling and buying iPads and one iPhone on Craigslist is, when buying, to avoid the listings "by dealer." In my experience, these are either fishing for email addresses to send you spam or the scams trying to get your cash (saying they're in Canada someplace--no offense, Rene!--and/or wanting to use this scam third-party broker web site). Of course, they also try to get you with what looks like a deal that's too good to be true. That said, I've met some great people and things have gone smoothly once I meet them and do the deal.
  • I always do the final sale/exchange in the parking lot of my local police station. If they won't meet you their then something is wrong.
  • Excellent tip, never even thought of that
  • When I got my iPhone 5, I sold my 4s on Craigslist without a hitch. I met the guy at the mall, walked over to the Verizon kiosk and let him get it checked out. Made $350 cash, didn't check to see if it was counterfeit or anything but it all worked out. Gonna do it again when the 5s/6 comes out.
  • I sell on eBay. Bigger audience, easy to list, much safer. No risk of a dangerous encounter.
  • What does the stupid Firefly pic have to do with craigslist or the iphone?
  • Always...and I mean ALWAYS...carry a counterfeit pen!
  • Where do you buy those? Occasionally I've wished I had one.
  • I got mine at Staples...Office Max and Office Depot have them as well...
  • Be prepared to deal with idiots. I said 3 times that my Verizon iphone 4 could NOT be unlocked since it was CDMA only and I got 10 emails asking me if it could. I said it only worked on Verizon and I got 3-4 messages asking me if it works on AT&T. I tried for weeks to sell it but I couldn't deal with the hassle. I ended up putting it on Ebay and it sold no problem. The few phones I've sold have all been on ebay. I have sold electronics on Craigslist but for phones I'd rather pay the ebay listing fees and just be done with it.
  • Yeah, I sold my 4 and 5 on eBay without much of a problem. I sold my Droid X way back when on Craigslist and I did the exchange at the customer service desk at Kroger; plenty of cameras if anything would have gone south.
  • I have bought/sold my last few phones on and have had really great experiences thus far. There seem to be fairly sophisticated users there, which may mean you won't be able to sell for quite as much as on CL or locally, but it's worth it. A few months back I sold a Macbook Air on Craigslist and I met a potential buyer at our local Wal-mart parking lot. The guy wanted to pay with a beat-up looking cashier's check that was dated six months prior to that, his explanation being that his dad had sent him the money and he just hadn't found a good enough deal until then. Thankfully my desire to sell the laptop didn't overcome my skepticism, and I told him to call me back if he could come up with the cash.Needless to say, he never called. Come to find out using counterfeit cashiers checks is a pretty common scam.
  • I sell on Gazelle. I may not get as much as I would selling person to person or on ebay but I have no hassles. I do it online, Gazelle sends me a prepaid box thats well protected inside, I call UPS to pick it up and five days later I have an Amazon gift card that I put into my account. No meetings, no ads, no contact info, no worries and no complaints from the buyer. Its worth it to me.
  • Lol Gazelle is trash on prices only $350 for a 64GB iPhone 5?
  • I sold my iPhone 5 on eBay for $525.00 within just a few hours. I got raped on the fees, however.
  • Dude! It was $62 for selling my 5 at $450 and $14 for the PayPal fee! The convenience was kind of worth it, but still!
  • I bought an iPhone 5 (32 gb) on CL about a month or so ago for $500. The guy was more than happy to meet me at AT&T so I could make sure the phone could be activated on my line. Then after I bought the phone, I even ended up contacting him because I had to ask him to deregister the phone from his Apple profile. He did it right away and I was able to register the phone under my account. It was a good transaction but sometimes I still worry I'll find my phone has stopped working because it was reported stolen or something. I don't know how long I'll have the phone before I feel like I'm "in the clear".
  • I prefer eBay over Craigslist when it comes to iPhones.
  • One more tip. Everytime i sell something on CL and meeting someone i always bring my counterfeit pen and my PEPPERSPRAY. You never know.
  • Great tips for the new, and a nice refresher for classified veterans :).
    I've also picked up a few things down the road that I wanted to share: -Meeting at a well lit public place is critical for safety. And the article already points that out, but no matter what reason the other person puts forth, never meet at a residential location, parking lot, or anywhere else that can put you at higher risk.
    -When you have the unit in hand Check for:
    -->Wifi connection (meeting at a coffee shot with Wifi helps)
    -->Insert your sim to check if it connects properly.
    -->Make a call to check for ear piece, mic & speakerphone functionality.
    -->Google "dead pixel check" website, and load up a blank screen to test for dead pixels
    -->Load up another website and check if phone can properly switch from land/portrait/land etc...
    -->Plug in your earphones to check if the jack is working properly
    -->Take a picture / test out the camera app (if applicable)
    -->Confirm warranty (if any are applicable)
  • pays more than any online iPhone buyer. We invite you to shop and compare our quotes to all others. We treat you fairly and pay you quickly!
  • Craigslist isn't too bad. Definitely heard some horrible things though. I don't like to deal with the hassle of it and just sell to online companies like Even though I don't make as much as I would selling it myself, I at least avoid meeting up with people I don't know...