Buying privately can save you more money than buying refurbished, but here are the things you need to check before buying a phone or device from an online marketplace or auction site.
Is it worth it?
Buying a device or mobile phone second-hand often works out much cheaper than buying brand new and it’s becoming a far more popular option for consumers looking to keep costs down. It’s also a much more environmentally-friendly purchase than buying new. Buying second-hand helps to keep e-waste down and considerably lengthens the lifetime of the device. It all helps to build a more sustainable, circular economy.
You can buy refurbished devices from retailers, or you can buy from an individual through one of the many second-hand marketplaces and auction sites available online.
Buying a refurbished device direct from a retailer can be the more straightforward option. The device will usually go through thorough checks before being offered for sale and come with a 12-month warranty period to cover any technical issues.
However, buying privately can often save you a lot more money than buying refurbished, particularly if you’re buying on an auction site and the bidding starts low.
The best time to buy is usually following the release of a newer model, as the second-hand marketplace suddenly floods with older versions, some of which would only have been released in the previous year!
Know before you buy
Consumer rights are different when you buy from a private seller – they don’t have to disclose any faults, but they aren’t allowed to misrepresent the item either. If they did, you would be entitled to a full refund.
Given this, it’s really important to do your research and check that the device is exactly what you’re looking for, to avoid disappointment when it arrives. You need to know exactly what you’re getting! Don’t be afraid to ask the seller questions if there’s anything not covered in the item description.
Here are some things to bear in mind before you press the ‘Buy’ button.
- Check the phone’s condition:
- Does the phone switch on and work as it should? (This is an obvious one, but it’s worth checking, just in case!)
- Do the cameras and all of the buttons work?
- Is the device still under warranty?
- What physical condition is the item in – are there scratches on the device or any cracks in the screen? Ask for photos of any damage.
- What accessories are included? Does the device come with the original charger, headphones etc?
- Are the ports working, particularly the charging port?
- Check the battery health
Like all rechargeable batteries, phone batteries become less effective as the device gets older. The good news is your seller can check the device to tell you how effective the battery is, so you don’t get a nasty surprise when it arrives.
Replacement phone batteries vary in price with some being fairly inexpensive, so you may still decide to go ahead with the purchase if the battery capacity isn’t optimal, but you will at least be forewarned.
- How to check Apple iPhone battery health
- How to check the battery health of an Android device (e.g. Samsung)
- Will the device receive updates?
Over time, smartphones can get ‘left behind’ by the manufacturer, when they no longer support the model with updates. Once a phone stops receiving crucial security updates, it can leave it open to hackers, so this is something to consider when buying an older handset, whether that’s through a private sale or through a second-hand retailer.
Which? has an online tool that lets you check whether a smartphone model is still receiving updates and even estimates when it may stop being supported.
- Research prices for similar second-hand devices online
If the price listed is much cheaper than others in a similar condition, it may well be too good to be true, so approach with caution.
- Who is the seller?
Some online second-hand marketplaces have review systems in place so that users can rate their experience with a buyer/seller. Check your seller’s ratings or reviews before buying from them.
When it comes to payment, avoid bank transfers as they offer you limited protection. Instead, you should:
- Send the money via the marketplace’s official app, or
- Use PayPal (Goods and Services, not Family and Friends), or
- As a last resort, use your debit or credit card.
Also, as a side note to this, always stick to the selling platform for your messaging – don’t give out your phone number and don’t switch to texts or whatsapp.
- Take screenshots
Just in case anything goes wrong later down the line, keep a record of the listing, seller’s details, any message history and your transactions.
- Is the item legitimate?
Before parting with your hard-earned cash, you need to check that the item is genuine – that it is actually the model you’re looking for and not a fake, or cloned, device.
You will also want to know as much about the device history as possible – you don’t want to buy a phone that has been reported as stolen, or has had an insurance claim made on it, for example. If your seller doesn’t actually own the item, they can’t legitimately sell it and you can therefore never legally own the device, either.
So you’re looking for proof that the item is what the seller says it is and that they can legally sell it. This is where CheckMEND comes in, the world’s most comprehensive device check.
You can ask your seller for a CheckMEND certificate; they should be able to give you an ID for you to verify for yourself online. Or you can ask the seller for the IMEI* or serial number of the device; that’s all you need to check the item’s device history yourself.
A free check is available for all new users (£1.99 thereafter).
*The IMEI number is the phone’s unique identifier. It can be found by typing *#06# into the phone.
When your item arrives…
After all of your research and effort, hopefully you’ve bagged yourself a bargain and you’ll be very happy with your new device. It’s worth giving it a thorough check when it first arrives to make sure it’s everything you were hoping for and that it hasn’t been mis-sold to you.
- Is the item as described?
- Are all the accessories that were promised included?
- Is everything in good working order?
- Is the device charging properly? Charging ports can build up with dirt or lint which affects the connection, but they can usually be easily cleaned.
What to do when a sale goes wrong
If the item is different to what you were expecting in any way, you should first try to resolve the issue with the seller. Contact them as soon as you can after receiving the device and give them a deadline to respond to you. Remember, if the item has been misrepresented, you are within your rights to ask for a refund.
If there is anything you are unsure of, or you need more help with a consumer problem, you can contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline.
You can also contact Citizens Advice if you need to report a trader who is selling fake or counterfeit goods to Trading Standards.