How to buy a used iPhone and not end up with a useless brick

Not everyone has the funds to buy a brand-new iPhone, but plenty of private sellers and online retailers are selling gently-used iPhones for a deep discount. Now is a prime time to buy an iPhone for cheap, with cult Apple fans excited to trade in or sell their iPhone 6 for the new iPhone 7, to be released in August.

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While buying used can be a great way to save money, the internet is, unfortunately, rife with scams and stolen merchandise. To find a reputable seller and quality Apple product, follow these tips for buying a used iPhone online.

1. Consider buying refurbished

Online retailers like Gazelle sell refurbished iPhones, which have passed a 30-point inspection, undergone any necessary repairs and are backed by a 30-day return policy. Refurbished phones are held to a higher standard and should perform exactly the same as a new phone.

Refurbished phones are usually available at less of a discount than used phones, but also involve less risk than buying from a private seller and often come with a guarantee. The iPhone 6 is available starting at around $350 on most sites selling refurbished devices and will likely drop in price when the iPhone 7 is released.

2. Check the hardware

While this seems obvious, it can often be hard to tell the condition of a used cell phone based on looks alone. In some cases, a scratched, seemingly harshly-used phone can be a better purchase than one that looks great on the outside but has a battery that won’t hold a charge or has water damage.

Make sure to ask the seller if the phone has been damaged by water, been dropped or has a bad battery. Most iPhones have a water damage indicator either on the inside of the headphone jack or in the slot that holds the SIM card. Battery life for a new iPhone is around 20 hours, with heavy usage. A quality used phone should get at least 80 percent of that, or it might be time to replace the battery, which can be costly since it’s not removable on newer models. Also check for dents, “bendgate” bending or deep screen scratches, and avoid phones that have these types of tell-tale flaws.

3. Make sure there isn’t an activation lock

If you’re buying a device with iOS 7.0 or newer, make sure to ask the seller if the phone has an activation or iCloud lock. An activation or iCloud lock results from the original owner activating the Find My iPhone feature, which Apple created to help locate lost or stolen devices. Activation lock prevents thieves from wiping and re-selling the phone, but an iCloud-locked phone can easily be unlocked by the original owner by following these directions from Apple. If the seller cannot or will not unlock the phone, there is a good chance it’s stolen.

If you have already bought a locked device and cannot get in touch with the seller, there are several reputable companies that can unlock iPhones, but, on average, only 50 percent of iCloud unlocking attempts are successful. This means that only half of the people who send in an activation-locked device will get back a functional iPhone. Not great odds, so buy at your own risk.

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4. Try looking on social media

If you can find a friend-of-a-friend who is selling her old phone on social media, this is a great situation. While there is probably more variety on Craigslist, it’s always better to buy used from someone you know, as you’ll have more reassurance that the device isn’t stolen.

The other advantage to knowing the seller is that if the phone has any major issues, it will be easier to ask for your money back. The person will be more likely to be honest about the performance of the iPhone, so you’ll have a better idea of what you’re getting for your hard-earned cash.

If no one you know is selling her old phone, try searching Facebook groups in your area. Being able to identify the person selling the device as a real human is still a step ahead of buying on Craigslist, where it’s easy to get scammed if you aren’t careful.

It’s entirely possible to find a used iPhone online at a great price; you just have to do your research. Nine times out of 10, it will be fairly obvious when a deal is too good to be true, and it will be easy to identify stolen or damaged phones by asking the right questions of the seller. Follow these four expert tips, and you could snatch up a like-new iPhone for a fraction of the original cost.

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