Is it a terrible idea to buy an iPhone on eBay?
June 23, 2013 2:23 PM   Subscribe

My phone contract is coming to an end, and I've decided I'd rather purchase an unlocked phone and move to a prepaid plan than continue in my current cell phone contract. I have an iPhone 4 but want to upgrade to a 4s or 5. It looks like I can get one on eBay for a solid $100-$150 cheaper than I can get one from the Apple store. Having a new vs. used phone is of zero consequence to me as long as it works fine and isn't stolen. Is it a terrible idea to buy a phone off eBay? What pitfalls should I watch out for?
posted by KathrynT to Shopping (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I bought a phone on eBay once. I got the phone quickly. It worked fine and it was exactly as advertised. But my god, I smelled like the former owner's incredibly strong cologne for the rest of the short time I used that phone and hated every minute of it. True story.
posted by eschatfische at 2:32 PM on June 23, 2013

I've bought several (cheaper) phones on eBay and had no problems. I always buy from the phone's owner/user, not from any of the ubiquitous businesses that sell used phones by the dozen. Seller feedback should be solid, though I have made exceptions where a feedback score has obviously been sullied by one lone nutty buyer. I want to see excellent photographs of the actual phone being offered, not a 'representative sample,' and explicit assurance that the ESN or MEID is clean. If you have all that, it's a slam dunk for eBay to rule in your favor if you're unhappy with what you receive.
posted by jon1270 at 2:33 PM on June 23, 2013

I don't think it's a bad idea. I purchased a used, unlocked iPhone 4 and had absolutely no problem with it. In fact, the previous owner was very kind and overall, it was a pleasant transaction.

I would just pay attention to the seller's ratings and examine the listing itself very carefully to make sure that it is legitimate and that you can activate the phone on your network. As nit-picky as it sounds, I would be wary of sellers who explained the item in a perfunctory way, if the listing had spelling/grammar mistakes, etc. Feel free to contact the seller if you have any questions and if he doesn't give you satisfactory answers, I would avoid buying the phone from him.
posted by satine at 2:35 PM on June 23, 2013

I've also done this successfully three times now.
posted by emilyw at 2:40 PM on June 23, 2013

I've bought and sold tons of iphones(and other phones) online.

Personally i think ebay is even better than craigslist since you can file a buyer protection case if they bone you over. You can get better prices on craigslist, but ebay is safer.

I'd do this without hesitation. Just be very ready to raise a stink and not go "eh, it's not a big deal" if it isn't exactly as advertised.
posted by emptythought at 2:45 PM on June 23, 2013

I just bought what was advertised as an iphone 3gs on ebay. It turned out it was an iphone 3g. The seller gave me a discount after I alerted them to that and we're all mostly happy.
posted by singingfish at 2:54 PM on June 23, 2013

I've bought and sold several iPhones via eBay over the past 5 years. Never had a problem.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:57 PM on June 23, 2013

I bought a smartphone that works with Republic Wireless. The phone was $250 but there's no contract and it's $20 a month for unlimited everything. But it's an Android; don't know how that compares to an iPhone.
posted by aniola at 3:17 PM on June 23, 2013

I'm typing this on a used, unlocked 32 GB iPhone 4S that I purchased for $425.00 a few weeks ago. Look closely at all of the pictures, follow your gut as far as the item description goes, and be aware of the item's return policy. I saved like $300!
posted by oceanjesse at 3:20 PM on June 23, 2013

I did this last fall and use Straight Talk. It's worked out great so far. The only drawback is that I cannot send or receive photo or video messages with non-iPhones. Apparently it's a software conflict. There are workarounds detailed on YouTube but I haven't bothered.

I called Verizon to find out the exact day my contract was ending. I started looking for the phone about two months before that and found one at a really good "Buy It Now" price a month before the contract was up. This gave me time to actually get the phone, get the SIM card and figure out how to port the number. I called Verizon the day before the last day of the contract to cancel to make sure I didn't get stuck paying for the next month.
posted by fozzie_bear at 3:48 PM on June 23, 2013

Worked ok for me. There were two glitches, the first shouldn't apply to you but I didn't do enough research, should've got a 4s. The other was it wasn't in the original box and the serial number on the box was not valid. Confusion, ebay postings, grarr. Once the actual serial was noticed it all went smooth.
posted by sammyo at 5:27 PM on June 23, 2013

I have also done this. No guarantee it's not stolen, but many companies now deactivate the IME identifying number, and if it's not active, you have recourse.
posted by theora55 at 8:56 AM on June 24, 2013

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