Tips, Tricks & Apple News
May 2014

How to Buy a Used iPhone

How to Buy A Used iPhone – Essential Checklist


Buying and reselling iPhones is a great way to make some extra cash. A few years ago, it was fairly simple. All the iPhones that people had were AT&T and they could be unlocked via a cheap IMEI submission or software unlock. Today, it’s much different! Sometimes it can be easy to forget one of the variants that matter when it comes to resale pricing for used iPhones. We’ve tried to put together a collection of the most important items to check so you’ll know how to buy a used iPhone and not miss something important.

1) iPhone Model Identification:

While for most of us who have our hands on iPhones on a daily basis, this might seem fairly easy…until one slips by! Our standard rule is no matter how certain one might be, we always look up the phone model to be sure. You’re not only checking to make sure you have the correct iPhone model but you’re also assuring the GB version.  We bookmark a lookup tool on our browser for easy navigation and look-up. Always lookup serial number to identify the model each and every time! — It’s just easier and only takes a few seconds to do!

2) Cell Phone Carrier Check

You can use any of these methods below to check for the cell phone carrier.

  • Check the APN in the upper left hand corner from the main home screen. (For GSM carriers, sim card will have to be inserted. If CDMA, it should display without a sim)
  • Settings > General > About > Network (sometimes this will only work if an active or un-activated sim card is in the device)
  • Withing “Network” – if IMIE (it’s GSM) if MEID (CDMA). Take the IMEI or MEID directly to the carriers IMEI / ESN lookup and it should register on one of the big 4 carriers. MEID conversion to ESN might be needed.
  • For newer models of iPhone, the IMEI, MEID or ESN AND model number is directly on the back of the phone.
  • When we’re really stuck or unsure (sometimes it happens if a phone is damaged) we’ll use blowfish unlocks to check network carrier settings. It’s ~$1, and takes a few minutes to get info back and also will give you unlocking status of a iPhone that was originally locked to a specific carrier, warranty information and activated status. (described below)


  • Don’t take a customers word for the carrier type. ALWAYS CHECK.
  • Even if it has a sim card from a network provider in the phone already.
  • It’s a good idea to have a few inactive sim cards for each carrier laying around. If you don’t get a nice baggie or secure place to put them in you’ll surely lose them (maybe before you even use them). You can grab these from eBay.
3) IMEI / ESN Lookup for Lost/Stolen, Blacklisted or Bad ESN Database

Many free sites exist but might only make an API call to the network to see if it’s in their database and not check everything you need to know about the device, or be up to the minute accurate. You should ONLY check ESN and IMEI’s DIRECTLY from the big 4′s activation website.

  • Verizon
  • AT&T – They don’t have a physcial lookup but you can do a live chat with wireless and pretend you want to get service with bring your own phone and ask about the IMEI or hit the first stage of activating from their site and you can check. This is the certain way, but you can use, which is for the most part reliable.
  • T-Mobile
  • Sprint – This uses a Sprint MVNO “Ting’s” website which is directly linked up with Sprint activation. Otherwise you can go through activation process or use
4) Unlock Status of iPhone

If the person you’re purchasing the handset was the original owner and fulfilled their contract obligation, it’s possible they already unlocked the device. Otherwise, they might have purchased it used or from a 3rd party and not even be aware that the device is unlocked. IMEI unlocking for GSM carriers won’t show any difference in the model number, serial number or other settings (easily detected) by doing such an unlock.

Helpful Hints:

  • If the person was or still is a subscriber for AT&T for an AT&T iPhone trade-in, have them call AT&T from your location and request the device be unlocked. Give them a few extra bucks for doing so. The value of IMEI unlocking your device will drastically increase the resale value of the device.
  • Each former or current AT&T OR GoPhone subscriber is eligible for 5 unlocks (per previous account for previous users) and 5 per year for active subscribers.
  • Go-Phone customers are required to have had service for 6 months.
5) Apple Care Warranty Lookup

This is very similar in nature to checking for the unlock. It’s rare that a warranty exist but it does happen and it’s worth looking up before buying back. People who have water damage or severely broken phones or are asking “too much” could have a warranty on their phone.

You’re looking for two types of warranty:

  • Manufacturer 1 year warranty
  • Apple Care Warranty

If it has Apple Care – If it has a cracked screen, has been water damaged or even run over by a truck (as long as it’s not in two pieces) Apple will exchange the phone for you at no cost. Sometimes a $50 fee might apply for shipping and processing but depending on what price you bought the phone for and the defects that it might have, it can be well worth it! The warranty travels with the phone, not the original owner and ESN/IMEI status doesn’t matter.
If it’s under 1 Year Warranty – If the iPhone has ONE HAIR LINE CRACK, a bad button, weak WIFI and a few other defects where damage physical damage isn’t present (including any water damage) then the phone can be exchanged for little to no cost!
If it’s out of warranty – For a much more significant fee, you can have Apple replace the device for a flat device exchange rate. This fluctuates, but sometimes you can buy a severely beat up phone from a client for little to nothing, pay the high surcharge from Apple and get a new or refurbished phone back and make some good money. Last I checked, iPhone 5 and 5s was $249 and iPhone 4 and 4s was $129. So it could be beneficial and reasonable to buy back and broken iPhone 5s with water damage or run over by a mac-truck for $50 , pay the $249 and resale the thing for $500 and make $200 profit.

6) iCloud Lock / Activation Lock / Find My iPhone and Passcodes

These are probably the most important ones that have surfaced in the last 6 months. No longer can you conduct a simple hard reset or factory restore from the device or iTunes and have a fresh iPhone. In many cases, the phones will boot to the main menu and unless checked under settings will become a paperweight the moment you restore the device (or worse, after you’ve resold it and that person tries to upgrade)

  • Go to settings and disable Find My iPhone feature.
  • Ensure you can sign out of iCloud
  • Ensure you can sign out of iTunes.
  • If the person doesn’t mind, before handing over the cash, do a factory restore and ensure the phone can get back to the main menu activation
  • Make sure you have a compatible sim card for the carrier to get past the activation screen if you do this)
  • Do a regular power cycle as well as tap the home button to lock the device and power it back on to check for any pass codes.

This is mandatory! iCloud’s Activation lock was supposed to prevent thives from stealing but that’s worked just about as well as Obamacare. Thieves will steal the device and create a second victim by trying to pull one past you!

7) Hardware Basic Functional Testing

These are very easy to check but without a standardized list to go through each time, something could be missed! All iPhones have the following similar hardware functions that should be tested before purchasing back a device. The most important functions to check:

  • LCD – (check against black background, if you have wifi or the note pad).
  • Digitizer – Touching all parts of the touch panel
  • Proximity Sensor – Turn the device side to side
  • WiFi – Picks up signal and connects (use a mobile hot spot if you’re not at your store front or away from the store)
  • Test Call – Make a test call (if possible)
  • Microphone/Earpiece – Using microphone app, record speaking into the phone for 5-10 seconds and playback.
  • Speakerphone – Play back the above recording and when half way through, cut on speakerphone.
  • Cameras – Both front and back take a picture and short video to ensure full functionality.
  • Buttons – Home button, side volume keys, vibrate switch
  • Vibrate – Check vibrate button and vibrate motor (if fails to work, check volume/vibrate settings in case vibrate is disabled)
  • Chargeport – Often overlooked! Try charging with an OEM cable and syncing to the PC.
  • Audiojack – Have a headset you can insert and check both Left and Right channels.
  • Watermark indicators – Check in the audio jack, charge port and sim card tray (for iPhone 5 and higher)
  • Sim Card Reader – Make sure the sim lever and reader is working properly.

Following these steps will ensure that every device that you buy gets the full evaluation it deserves and a proper valuation of the device can be done.

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