Buying and reselling iPhones is a great way to make some extra cash inside your cell phone repair shops.
You already have the repair technicians and spare parts for most repairs as well as customers who want to buy them for international use or their prepaid cell phone service.
A few years ago, it was fairly simple. All the iPhones that end-users had were AT&T and they could be unlocked via a cheap IMEI submission or software process. 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 lookup.
Always look up serial numbers 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, the 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)
- Within “Network” – if IMIE it’s GSM, if MEID it’s CDMA. Take the IMEI or MEID directly to the carriers IMEI/ESN lookup and it should register on one of the big four carriers. MEID conversion to ESN might be needed.
- For newer models of iPhones, 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; it also gives your iPhone an “unlocked” status since it comes locked to a specific carrier, warranty information and activated status (described below).
- Don’t take a customer’s word for the carrier type. ALWAYS CHECK. This applies 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 your shop. If you don’t, get a nice baggy or secure place to put them in- otherwise, you’ll surely lose them (maybe before you even use them). You can grab these from some of your customers or on eBay.
3) IMEI/ESN Lookup for Lost/Stolen, Blacklisted or Bad ESN Database
Many free sites exist, but they might only make an API call to the network to see if it’s in their database. They may not check everything you need to know about the device or be up-to-the-minute accurate. You should ONLY check ESN and IMEIs DIRECTLY from one of the big four’s activation websites.
- AT&T – They don’t have a physical lookup, but you can do a live chat with wireless support and pretend you want to get service by bringing your own phone and asking about the IMEI; you can also go through the first stages of the activation process on their site and check that way. Alternatively, you can use CheckESNFree.com, which is – for the most part – reliable.
- Sprint – They use a Sprint MVNO “Ting’s” website, which is directly linked up with Sprint’s activation. Otherwise, you can go through the activation process or use CheckESNFree.com.
4) Unlock Status of the iPhone
If the customer you’re purchasing the handset from 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 third party and may 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.
- Check network unlock status for iPhone via IMEI – This can run a little slow, but it is free (can run a few checks a day) and is consistently up.
Of the 1,258 iPhones we bought back last month that were specifically said to be locked to a specific carrier by the end user, 7% (88 phones) were actually fully network unlocked via IMEI.
- If the client 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 for the device to 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 five unlocks (per previous account for previous users) and five per year for active subscribers.
- GoPhone customers are required to have had service for at least six months.
5) Apple Care Warranty Lookup
This is very similar in nature to checking for the unlock. It’s rare that a warranty exists, but it does happen and it’s worth looking up before buying back. Customers 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 warranties:
- Manufacturer’s one year warranty
- Apple Care Warranty
Of the 1,258 iPhones we bought back last month, 3% (37 phones) had an Apple Care Warranty still active on the handset.
I plan to do a follow-up article on this, but for now I’ll try to keep it very layman’s.
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 the ESN/IMEI status doesn’t matter.
If it’s under the one year warranty – If the iPhone has a single hairline crack, a bad button, weak WiFi, or any other defect where 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, the iPhone 5 and 5s was $249 and the iPhone 4 and 4s was $129. So it could be beneficial and reasonable to buy back a broken iPhone 5s with water damage or one that has been run over by a Mack truck for $50 , pay the $249 and resell the device 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 six 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 your customer tries to upgrade).
- Go to settings and disable the “Find My iPhone” feature.
- Ensure you can sign out of iCloud.
- Ensure you can sign out of iTunes.
- If the customer 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 and 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 devices … 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 potentially 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 this against a black background, purple.com 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 hotspot if you’re not at your storefront 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 – Make sure both front and back take a picture and can record a short video to ensure full functionality.
- Buttons – Home button, side volume keys, and vibrate switch.
- Vibrate – Check the vibrate button and vibrate motor (if it 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 the 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 are working properly.
Following these steps will ensure that each and every device you buy back for resale or repair gets the full evaluation it deserves and a proper valuation of the device can be done.
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