Why you should never purchase cell phones from private sellers and buy only from licensed shops
We are a 5 star phone repair store and receive on average about 5-10 calls/drop-ins daily from customers asking us to either unlock a phone they “found” or telling us horror stories on being scammed! The most heartbreaking scenario was when a teenager came in with his mother with a $1400 iPhone XS Max which they purchased with the original packaging for $1000. The teen told us he used his hard-earned savings and wanted to unlock the phone. The reaction we saw from him and his mom when we told them it could not be activated was what inspired us to write this blog post to warn customers to avoid buying from private sellers that cannot be tracked and offer no warranties or exchange policy. We find that there are no deals and often the savings the buyer is wishing for is not worth the risk.
Common “Scam” Scenarios run by Private Sellers
Here’s what we experience on a daily basis:
- Scammer claiming phone is New
Phone is purchased on marketplace through a private seller with no history. Phone is perfect, with some in original box and packaging. Seller gives the buyer a great price; often 30-50% lower than fair market price. The seller typically uses a disposable Google Voice number and meets the buyer at a public location such as Starbucks, McDonalds etc. The buyer then:
- Takes the phone to activate at their carrier and finds out no carrier will activate it because it is on a blacklist or has been reported as stolen.
- Inserts their own sim card after opening it and then finds out that it doesn’t read and comes to our store for unlocking. They find out that the phone cannot be used since it has been reported stolen. These phones are stolen devices and cannot be activated in North America. **There is a small chance they can be used outside of North America.
- Forgot to remove iCloud or Google Lock
Phone is purchased online or in person and it was factory reset by the seller prior to shipping. The seller shows the startup screen to the buyer indicating the phone has been reset and receives payment, never to be seen again. The buyer goes home and puts their SIM card in the device and then runs into either a screen that requires a Google login or an iCloud login in order to proceed through the configuration process. As the phone is a now a “brick” they bring the phone in for us to “unlock”. These are called “Google Unlocking” or “iCloud Unlocking” which differs than being on a blacklist. If you are lucky enough, you can reach the seller and ask them to remotely remove the iCloud lock from their Apple account.
- Seller is not the owner and has no access to login credentials
Phone is purchased online and it was factory reset by the seller prior to shipping. However upon the buyer setting up the phone, they find out that first the Samsung, Google or iPhone account from the previous owner needs to be signed out of. The Buyer either cannot locate the Seller or even worse the Seller doesn’t know the credentials of the previous owner since they weren’t the real previous owner!
- Defective Unit with undiscovered issues
Phone is purchased and everything works fine, UNTIL, you find that the earphone jack, bluetooth, volume buttons etc. don’t work properly. Private Sellers know that Buyers won’t check these and will pass on defects from seriously defective phones. Some defects are easy to fix others are not fixable as they are due to serious issues such as a motherboard defect or a broken touch ID. Many repairs are often very expensive and in some cases the repair costs more than the phone itself! See our list of repair costs here.
- Broken Touch ID on certain Apple models
Upon return home and setup the new owner finds that the touch ID fingerprint won’t work with new owner. This is a common problem we run into when the phone has been previously repaired especially on an iPhone. With Apple (on certain models 6s – 8) this cannot be fixed as the fingerprint touch ID is tied into the motherboard. Changing the touch button does not fix this issue.
Who are these Sellers?
Not all sellers have bad intentions. Some are just unwitting and sell phones that they have found. We’ve had numerous break-ins to our shop where unusable phones have been taken that cannot be activated. What a lot of people don’t know is that technology is getting better and that it is hard to steal. Here’s a list of what we found are common:
- Insurance Fraudsters – Many sellers will often buy a phone, report it as stolen and claim insurance. They sell the phone ASAP and claim the insurance almost at the same time.
- Taxi / Uber Drivers – They find devices all the time. They don’t know that these devices are often locked and cannot be reactivated once reported missing. Most do not have bad intentions and because they know little about phones will often try to make an extra dollar selling them.
- Sellers who “Found” the Phone – This often means they took the phone from somebody without permission. There are many variations on this story such as it was a gift or it was given by a family member etc. We’ve heard every variation on this story possible, but the bottom line is that as a buyer you have no recourse buying from these type of sellers.
- Sellers taking advantage of marketplaces – Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and Ebay as well as apps such as Offerup and Letsgo. Ebay has some buyer protection but the others do not. Beware when buying from those marketplaces as you cannot get refunds, exchanges or warranties.
- Outright criminals – These steal from their own workplace or rob shops like ours. Little do they know that these are all traceable, can be easily reported as stolen and more likely than not they will be caught.
How to properly buy a used Phone
Follow this checklist in order to properly purchase a used phone on your own. You can also bring in the phone to us and we can assist you at our store.
- Identify the device’s IMEI number. You can find an IMEI for an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy You can also do it using a shortcode.
- Next thing to do is to check if the phone you want to purchase is on the IMEI blacklist which tells you if the phone has been reported as stolen. Here’s another blacklist site that we use
and another great blacklist site from the CTIA
- Make sure the phone you are buying is compatible with your carrier. If you are on a GSM network (ATT or T Mobile) make sure the phone you have is a GSM phone. The same applies for CDMA phones. Some phones such as the Galaxy S8/S8+ can work on both CDMA and GSM networks! The first step is to identify the model number of your device. Thereafter you can check network compatibility here.
- Next step is to check if the phone will work on your carrier. From this you can find out if the phone has any outstanding payments (service or phone payments) with the carrier. If it has not been paid off with the existing carrier then you will not be able to activate it on another carrier unless the balance is paid off. You must find it on your carrier’s website.
- ATT (this checks when you bring another phone to ATT to see if it’s compatible)
- ATT (Enter ‘No’ and input IMEI and you will get a message only if NOT paid off – this is handy if you know it was originally on ATT)
- Verizon (this will check compatibility on their network if you bring a phone into their network)
- Verizon (if you know the phone was originally on Verizon and want to check if it’s still owing payments)
- Make sure the seller has removed their Google or iCloud lock (see section below for more details).
- If you buy an iPhone you must make sure the seller has signed out of their iCloud.
- You can check out this great site that tells you activation lock status in real-time for Apple Devices
- If you buy an Android make sure they have signed out of their Google Account.
What can be “Unlocked”
As a unlocking company we are able to unlock certain phones on certain carriers. It really depends on the phone model and carrier as well as timing. Here’s a general list:
- Many phones CAN be unlocked if they have fulfilled basic requirements with the carrier. For example prepaid phones can often be unlocked for no charge if it is done 1 year after initial activation as long as the bill is paid. Check with your carrier on the eligibility requirements to unlock your phone. As an example for ATT you can check here for unlocking eligibility. For Verizon phones are generally not locked though you should check here. Tmobile’s policy is here and Sprint’s is here.
- We CAN remove in some cases Android (Google) locks. This occurs when you buy a phone and the previous owner didn’t sign out. This is generally cheaper than an iCloud lock and costs up to $50.
- We CAN remove in some cases iPhone locks though they are expensive. These may cost up to $150 in some cases.
- We CANNOT unlock any iCloud or Google lock if it is on a blacklist (reported stolen or has outstanding payments).
What to check for Prior to Paying
Certainly you don’t have unlimited time to check the phone. However to do a basic check you can do the following diagnostic should time allow. Here are a few tips:
- Remove the screen glass to ensure the LCD & Glass are in the condition claimed. Often a glass protect or is put on to hide the condition of the screen. As the screen is the most valuable it is important.
- Do a battery health check. For an iPhone you can check here for iOS 11.3 and up. Battery replacement is inevitable with any phone as they have a limited lifespan.
- Perform a Diagnostic to make sure it is functional. For Android you can use an App like these to check for issues. If you have a Samsung you can use a special code to access the diagnostic. For iPhones you can check here. When purchasing a used phone it may not be feasible to perform a diagnostic and sellers know that. This is why we don’t recommend buying from private sellers.
How to Buy Phones Safely
Naturally we encourage buyers of used phones to purchase only from:
- Physical Shop where you know they are not going to disappear overnite.
Buy only from Sellers that can perform a full phone diagnostic to ensure the phone is working properly. GalaxyCPR only sells gently used phones from tier 1 wholesalers who check devices properly. Any defects that we know of are disclosed transparently to the buyer. Most used phones are not perfect (may have blemishes etc.) but they offer great value, often at up to 75% less than MSRP.
- Seller that can ensure that your carrier can be activated on the phone. GalaxyCPR will ensure your carrier works on your phone or we will refund you in full with no restocking fee. No more worries about carrier, IMEI and iCloud/Google locks!
- Licensed Business where they offer warranty options and will perform exchanges.GalaxyCPR is a licensed Las Vegas business that has 5 star Google Reviews. All devices are warrantied for 30 days and can be extended to up to 3 years. Although all sales of gently used devices are final we provide exchanges within 30 days.
- Physical Shop where they can perform screen repairs, sell accessories, and do maintenance such as battery repair.We have phone repair facilities and can do maintenance on any phone.
Contact GalaxyCPR.com by text or phone for assistance in purchasing a warrantied gently used device today. You may visit our store or purchase via our online store at CellDiscount.Store . If you require a repair visit our online price estimator for repairs