Five tips for buying a used iPhone

How to transfer data from your old phone to your new iPhone
How to transfer data from your old phone to your new iPhone (Image credit: iMore)

Buying a brand new iPhone is not cheap. Even though the iPhone 7 release has pushed down the price of some great older models such as the iPhone 6, you still may be looking for cheaper options.

Buying a used iPhone can be a little tricky. Sure, it will probably save you some money, but there are some common pitfalls that you can avoid. Don't stress; iMore is here to help you out with these handy tips.

Consider your retail options

Believe it or not, you have quite a few options for purchasing a used iPhone. It's probably tempting to jump on eBay — or even Craigslist — and buy the cheapest one you can find, but before you do that, consider going through a reputable second-hand dealer.

Purchasing through a reputable second-hand dealer

Gazelle is probably one of the most reliable second-hand phone dealers out there. All of the iPhones they sell go through a 30-point inspection, meaning they are all certified to be in working order so that you won't be buying a brick. Plus, Gazelle even gives you other valuable information, like whether or not the iPhone is locked to a particular carrier, and it even offers you a return policy.

Swappa is another reputable platform for buying used iPhones that lets you see pictures of the phone, so there should be no surprises when it comes to its condition.

Buying from a reliable source like Gazelle or Swappa does have its drawbacks. If you're looking for a very specific model, you may not be able to find it, and if you do locate the one you want, it will likely be more expensive than something you can find on eBay.

Make sure the iPhone will work with your carrier

Whether you're buying through a service or from a private source, you need to know if the iPhone is locked to a specific carrier. Locked phones can not always be easily switched over between carriers. For example, if you're a T-Mobile customer and the iPhone you're looking to purchase is locked to AT&T, you will need to get it unlocked before you can use it on the T-Mobile network.

Of course, you can get used iPhones that are already unlocked, saving you the hassle of doing it yourself. Unlocked phones will work with any carrier's SIM cards, so you never have to worry about getting service.

If you're purchasing used, I urge you to take a look at unlocked iPhones to save yourself some stress; however, I know that sometimes buying a locked iPhone may be the better deal. If that's the case, make sure you research if the phone is compatible with the carrier you want, and make sure you know how to unlock the iPhone from the old carrier. Here are some links to get you started:

Check to see if the iPhone's Activation Lock is disabled

If you buy a used iPhone that's Activation Locked—password protected on someone else's iCloud account—it's as good as useless to you. It's imperative you get confirmation that the activation lock is disabled, or you are essentially buying a brick.

If you're buying from a private source, make such the seller confirms that they have disabled the lock. Better yet, get them to completely erase all the data on the iPhone as well, that way you won't be able to access their info either. Safety for all those involved.

Check the iPhone for damage

This may seem like an obvious tip, but don't underestimate its importance. If you have the chance to look at the phone yourself before buying it, here are some things you should look for:

  • Cosmetic damage such as scrapes and scratches
  • Speaker problems: Play some audio and make sure it sounds clear.
  • Water damage: Check inside the SIM card slot with a flashlight to see if white sticker has turned red or pink.
  • Check for dead pixels by using an iPhone dead pixel test.

On top of looking for damage, ask the seller if they purchased AppleCare because that can be transferred to you. It takes a tiny bit of effort on the seller's part, but if they care about giving away the phone, they should do it. Apple has a great outline for how to transfer ownership of AppleCare.

Protect your purchase

As with any purchase online, you need to take measures to protect yourself. If you're buying from sources like eBay, check the feedback on the seller and make sure there are no red flags. If you see lots of different people angry with their purchases, don't buy from that seller. Also, consider using PayPal so you'll qualify for their purchase protection plan, which means you can get your money back if something is wrong with the product or — heaven forbid — you never receive your iPhone.

Don't forget about financial protection too. Take necessary steps to prevent your information from being stolen. Using virtual numbers, two-factor authentication, or even additional privacy services to protect your finances is highly recommended and quite prudent in private sales situations.

Have you bought a used iPhone before?

Do you have any tips for purchasing a used iPhone? Do you have any horror stories? We'd love to hear them — leave us a comment below!

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.