What to ask before buying a used cell phone

Buying from a trusted site takes some of the risk out of buying a used phone, but you still need to ensure you can activate and use the phone when it arrives.

What is the serial number? Also known as the ESN or IMEI. This is a crucial piece of information to get, because you’ll need it to verify whether the phone has been registered as lost or stolen. If it has, you won’t be able to activate the phone. The serial number will also tell you whether the phone will work with your carrier. Most carriers let you check this online, but you can also go to a store or call customer service.

Is the phone under contract or lease agreement? Phones under a contract or lease can’t be reactivated until the agreement is fulfilled. So, if the seller has a year left on the contract, it will be at least a year before you can activate the phone.

Does the phone have water damage? Moisture erodes a phone’s components over time. So while the device may look fine and work well now, it won’t last long if it’s been exposed to water. Unfortunately, you typically can’t look at a phone and tell if it has water damage, so you’re trusting the seller to be honest.

For added security, don’t pay cash or directly from your checking account. Instead, pick a payment method that has built-in protections, such as PayPal. Ramon Khan went that route when he purchased a used phone on Swappa.

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