What you should know before buying a used smart phone

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CROMWELL —  If your smart phone is on its last legs, Connecticut Better Business Bureau recommends you understand the risks associated with buying a used device.

Analysts say many consumers are not as inclined to upgrade their smart phones as often as they did in the past, in part, because of the phasing out of multi-year contracts and the subsidization of new phones by carriers. When the older phones break down or their batteries don’t hold a charge any more, many people look for a used device, instead of shelling out hundreds of dollars for the latest model. However, there will always be devotees who want the newest models as they come off the production line. That’s why there are many used smart phones on the market.

There are several potential problems when you buy a used device, including the chance the phone was stolen, has hidden problems or was rendered useless because it is “locked” to the carrier that originally sold it. If it is locked, it would prevent you from selecting an alternative, less expensive wireless provider of your choice.

Most of used smart phone problems happen after private sales. If you buy from a friend and the phone’s warranty has expired-it can strain your relationship if there is a problem with the product. If you purchase a used smartphone from a classified ad, it is a person-to-person transaction. Unless you pay with a credit card, you won’t have any sort of recourse if there is a serious problem after the purchase.

It is not easy to tell what shape the phone is in unless you see and test it. Like any electronic product, there may be hidden problems within an otherwise pristine-looking phone.

Sellers usually specify in ads or online auction sites whether a used phone was unlocked by its original carrier. In addition, recent models are impossible to activate unless their owners remove the smart phone’s passwords.

Connecticut Better Business Bureau offers tips to help you avoid losing money on a tainted device:

  • Evaluate the seller – This is difficult to do in a private sale. It is safer to buy from a local business, including smart phone repair kiosks at a shopping mall. Check out prospective sellers at bbb.org. Private sellers typically do not offer a guarantee, unlike a used phone dealer or carrier that sells refurbished devices.
  • Check if it was stolen before you buy – Get the seller to provide you with the phone’s IMEI number, which is the device’s unique identifier. Have them take a photo or screen shot of the phone’s IMEI to ensure it is the identifier for the phone you are buying. You can use that number on websites such as http://www.imei.info, to check whether the used phone was reported lost or stolen.
  • Make a checklist – You can’t see under the phone’s hood so to speak, but you can check the device’s battery life, see whether camera works; check the Wi-Fi connection; make sure the screen works properly and that the headphone jack, power and volume switches are in good working order.
  • Request an original receipt – Ask the seller for the original bill of sale for the phone as well as a receipt for your purchase. You would also want some sort of written warranty to make sure the phone works for a couple of weeks. Verify that the seller has had the phone unlocked by their carrier and removed any passwords that would interfere with your activation of the smart phone.
  • Get money for your old phones – Even if your old phones have serious problems, shops will still buy them for parts. Sometimes you can sell a used phone for as much as half of the original purchase price, or use it to negotiate the price of a used unit.
  • Remember that sales transactions between individuals lack the protection of buying from a business. Paying by credit card offers the most protection in case of a problem.
  • Research sellers at bbb.org to find out about other consumers’ experience with the business before you make a purchase.