Craigslist Used Cell Phone Buying Checklist

Ready to buy a used phone off Craigslist? Whether you’re looking for a used iPhone, Android smartphone, or other cell phone, get the best deal (and avoid getting scammed) with these tips from Be sure to download your free checklist below!

  • How to get a good deal on Craigslist cell phones
  • o What phone do you want to buy? o How to assess phone condition o A note about timing and resale value o Search tips o Negotiation tips o Additional advice
  • How to ensure a safe, scam-free transaction
  • Completing the transaction
  • Downloadable/printable checklist

How to get a good deal on Craigslist cell phones

Getting the best deal on Craigslist requires identifying what phone you want, getting the most out of Craigslist’s search tools, and good negotiation skills. Here’s a breakdown of each.

What phone do you want to buy?

Start by identifying what phone you want. Do you have a specific model in mind, like an iPhone 6; or, are you more interested in specs and features, like 4G wireless or compatibility with your preferred carrier?

Here are some of the most important features to consider:

  • Network compatibility: Do you need the phone to work on a specific carrier like Verizon or Sprint, or do you need an unlocked phone that can work on any network? Be sure to understand the difference between GSM and CDMA phones.
  • Wireless access: WiFi is a given, but you should determine whether you want a phone with 4G or 3G capabilities. Hint: if you want to stream videos, you want 4G.
  • Age: The age of the phone can be a factor, particularly as it pertains to battery life. Most cell phone batteries are manufactured to last two years, and that varies by usage. If you’re considering a phone that’s near or past the standard two-year lifespan, you should consider the price of a replacement battery and how difficult it is to replace. offers free cell phone battery replacement guides for many popular models.
  • Memory and processor: More memory and better processors equate to faster phones, generally-speaking.
  • Storage capacity: How much storage will you need? Keep in mind some phones have microSD card slots that allow you to expand your storage capacity, while others do not. Storage capacity is particularly important if you plan on taking a lot of pictures or videos.
  • Screen: How large do you want your screen (and phone) to be? What resolution?
  • Camera: Higher megapixel cameras take better photos.
  • Accessories: Do you want specific accessories with your phone? A charger, for example, or headphones?
Make Use Of has a nice breakdown of the most critical smartphone hardware specs, and you can view specs and features for just about any cell phone on GSM Arena. You can also check out the bestselling cell phones by year.

How to assess phone condition:

Once you know which phone you want, or at least a set of desirable features, you need to determine what condition is acceptable. Most people want to buy a phone in “good” or better condition; however, if you’re good at repairing devices, you might be willing to buy a phone in “fair,” “poor,” or even “broken” condition.

In that case, you’ll want to be sure the cost of repairs doesn’t exceed the cost of buying a used phone in “good” condition. Check out for free step-by-step repair instructions for many phones.

Here’s a breakdown of phone conditions and what each means so you can evaluate listings:

  • New: The phone is completely flawless, brand-new (often still in the box), and includes all accessories.
  • Like New: The phone has no imperfections, scratches, or blemishes. It looks like it was just unboxed, and includes all accessories.
  • Good: The phone has wear from normal use, such as light scratches or scuffs, but is completely functional. May or may not include accessories.
  • Fair: The phone is completely functional, but might display wear from consistent use. Scratches, nicks, and dings are common.
  • Poor: The phone has heavy scratches, dents, and/or a lightly-cracked or deeply-gouged screen. May or may not be functional.
  • Broken: The phone has severe damage, such as a shattered screen or water/liquid damage. It might be missing parts, and is likely not functional.

A note about timing and resale value

Timing and resale value also play roles in a good deal for a used phone on Craigslist. Market values for many phones drop in the weeks preceding and immediately after a new model release. So, for example, when the iPhone 7 was released, the used iPhone market became saturated as people sold their old iPhones so they could buy the new model. This market flood causes a dip in value, making it a good time to buy.

Check pricing trends to see whether values are decreasing for your desired phone on Some phone models lose value quickly, while others can be valuable several years after their initial release. Feature smartphones, in particular, hold good value.

If you think you might later resell the phone you’re going to buy off Craigslist, you’ll likely be able to recoup some of your investment if you purchase an iPhone or other feature phone, such as a Samsung Galaxy.

Search tips

You’ve done your research; now, it’s time to find your phone on Craigslist. Here are some search tips to help you find the perfect used cell phone.

Craigslist search tools and filters

It’s easy enough to visit your local Craigslist page and browse or search for the phone you want, but you can use these search tools and filters to get more refined results.


Used phones can be listed in any of the following categories, among others:

  • Cell phones, Electronics, General for sale, Barter, Computers, Garage sales, Free stuff
Seller: You can filter search results by “owner,” “dealer,” or “all.”

Search conditions: You can choose these search conditions:

  • Titles only
  • Only listings that include images
  • Listings posted today
  • Include listings from nearby areas (expand your search)
  • Miles from your zip code: Select your own geographic search radius.
  • Price: Set a minimum and maximize price to refine your results.
  • Condition: Select your condition; in addition to the conditions listed above, Craigslist adds “excellent” between “like new” and “good.” It also replaces “broken” with “salvage.”
  • Mobile OS: You can refine your search by operating system: Android, Apple iOS, BlackBerry, and Windows.
These search filters are useful if you have a lot of results to sift through; however, they’re often dependent on seller input. So, for example, if you filter results by “Apple iOS” you won’t see any listings where the seller didn’t specifically name the operating system. Use them sparingly to avoid missing good deals.

In addition to filters, you can use Boolean search queries to further refine your results. For more information, check out Craigslist’s advanced search page. If you create a Craigslist account, you can also save your searches to check results frequently.

Craigslist online tools and apps

Third-party tools and apps can also help you find a good deal on Craigslist. These are particularly useful if you are willing to buy a phone from a non-local listing (and have it mailed) or if you want to be able to get instant notifications so you can jump on deals right away. Examples include:

Online tools

Mobile apps

Placing a wanted ad

In addition to searching existing Craigslist listings, you can post your own ad in the “wanted” category. Be sure to include:

  • The model you want
  • Desired specs or a range of desired specs
  • Color desired
You might also want to add in how much you’re willing to pay, which can limit the number of responses from sellers who want too much. However, doing so carries the risk you’ll pay more than a given seller will take.

Negotiation tips

Find the perfect phone? Great! Now you need to negotiate the sale. Start by visiting to see what the current private market value is for the phone in question. To do this, simply:

  • Visit and search or browse for the phone
  • Select the phone model, storage capacity, color, and condition
  • In the upper right-hand corner, Flipsy will display the current private market value for the phone
This is a good barometer for determining whether a given listing is a good deal. If you can negotiate a price that’s lower than the current private market value, it’s a good deal.

  • Ask questions first: Ask for more photos, if you can’t tell the condition of the phone from the listing. Ask about the phone’s specs. Make it clear you’re knowledgeable about what you want.
  • Make an offer: Make your offer, and if it’s lower than the asking price, make your case for the adjustment. Be kind, but firm. Are there obvious flaws or missing accessories? Quote the private market value, then show the seller why you think the item is worth less than their asking price. How much lower should you offer? Some recommend offering 50 percent of the asking price; but research shows most sellers are willing to come down by 15 to 20 percent.
  • Demonstrate benefits: Are you able to pick the phone up today? Do you have cash in-hand right now? Selling takes time and money talks, so give the seller a good reason to come down on price.
  • Ask for their bottom dollar price: Some sellers won’t tell you, but others will offer an instant price reduction – particularly if you’re willing to sweeten the deal with a same-day cash transaction.
  • Avoid arguments: If a conversation is heading in the wrong direction, simply opt out for another listing.
  • Consider travel time and shipping: If there are additional costs associated with making the transaction, point them out.
  • Do not appear desperate: Always be willing to let the seller “walk” if terms are not acceptable. If you wait it out a few days, they might come back to accept your offer.
  • Sweeten the deal: As mentioned, paying in cash on the same day is a good way to motivate sellers to come down on prices. Think of other ways you can sweeten the dealer for the seller.
  • Practice: If you’ll be negotiating over the phone or in person, be sure to practice your negotiation first. Research and preparation – including being prepared to walk – are your best allies when it comes to negotiating a deal.
Check out these additional Craigslist negotiation tips:

How to ensure a safe, scam-free transaction

Once you’ve negotiated a price, it’s time to complete your transaction. But first, you need to protect yourself – all you have to do is read a few Craigslist horror stories to find out why. Here’s how to stay safe and scam-free.

Vet the seller

Ask the seller for their name and email address, then search for them on Google to see if any scam-related red flags pop up. You should also check out their Facebook profile, if they have one, which can lend insight into the type of person you’re dealing with. Ask if they’re selling other items on Craigslist, and make sure those listings aren’t fake.

Do not prepay or use escrow suggested by the seller Never prepay for a phone you found on Craigslist. It’s the easiest way to scam you out of your money. Also, avoid any seller who wants you to use a specific escrow service, as it’s possible the escrow service itself is a scam.

Only deal face-to-face Craigslist itself recommends conducting transactions face-to-face to avoid scams, which include fraudulent wire transfers and escrow scams. If you decide to ignore their recommendation, be sure to use a legitimate escrow service like or Pay Safe Escrow.

Your bank might offer escrow services as well. Be sure to check Better Business Bureau accreditation and complaints for any escrow company before using them; and keep in mind the cost of an escrow service might not be worth the purchase value of the phone.

Only pay in cash Never give out personal checks, which have your bank account information, credit card numbers, or money orders to pay for used phones. Only pay in cash at the time of sale.

Make sure the phone isn’t stolen or under contract Before you agree to meet the seller, ask for the phone’s IMEI (ESN/MEID) number, which is a unique device identifier. Better yet, ask for a picture that clearly shows the IMEI on the phone.

STEP 1: Use an IMEI database to check if the phone is stolen or otherwise blocked. Free services include:

STEP 2: Call the seller’s carrier. Find out what carrier they use, then call the carrier to inquire whether the IMEI is under contract.

STEP 3: Call your carrier. Give your carrier the IMEI to make sure the phone will work with their network.

Major carrier contact pages:

You can search other carriers’ websites for their contact information.

Completing the transaction

Once you’ve vetted the seller and the phone to make sure they’re on the up-and-up, you can finally complete your transaction. Here are some tips to keep it safe and ensure you’re getting what you’re paying for.

Meet in a safe place Public places with a lot of foot traffic are best, as they discourage crime. Consider meeting just outside your local carrier store; that way, you can double-check the phone will work on your network and instantly connect your phone after the sale.

Take a friend It’s a good idea to bring a friend along to discourage seller shenanigans, help you renegotiate if new flaws are noticed, and serve as a witness to your transaction.

Inspect the phone Completely inspect the phone before you pay the seller. In addition to cash, you should bring:

  • A laptop or battery charger pack
  • Headphones
  • SIM card (from your carrier)
  • MicroSD card (if applicable)
  • Charger (if the seller isn’t providing one)
  • Flashlight

Here’s what you need to check:

Water damage

Most phones have water damage indicators, often located in the battery compartment. If the battery door is removable, take it out and check the strips. Other phones include indicators in the headphone jacks or charging ports.

Use a flashlight to inspect. If the phone has been exposed to moisture, the white strips (or dots) will have turned red. Techwalla offers additional information on checking phones for water damage.

Service test codes

Many cell phones have service test codes you can enter to check system status and IMEI number, plus perform tests for wireless connectivity, touchscreen response, and Bluetooth functionality, among other things.

Dialing in *3001#12345#* on an iPhone, for example, will open a field test app to check cellular signal. Use the codes from these resources to test phones:

Verify the IMEI

You can visually inspect the IMEI on the phone to make sure it matches the one the seller gave you, but you should also use the service codes mentioned above to verify the software and hardware share the same IMEI (they should).

Make sure it’s not jailbroken (rooted)

Cell phones can be jailbroken, or rooted, which gives people more control over the device software. However, jailbroken phones can cause issues – particularly when it comes to spyware or malware. If you are comfortable with buying a jailbroken phone, that’s one thing; if you’re not sure what jailbroken means, chances are you don’t want one.

Either way, you need to be aware if the phone has been rooted. These resources will help you tell whether a given phone is jailbroken (rooted):

Make sure Activation Lock and Find My iPhone are off

You can verify these features in the settings menu of the phone. Be sure to have the seller remove any passwords before you buy so you can access the phone!

SIM card

Insert your own SIM card into the phone and see if you can:

  • Make a call
  • Receive a call
  • Send a text
  • Receive a text
  • Get online
You can test these on-the-spot with your friend’s phone.

SD card

Insert your own microSD card to make sure it’s recognized by the phone. Be sure you do not have any personal or financial data store on the card.

All components

  • Use the laptop or battery pack to make sure the phone will charge
  • Test the headphone jack and any additional ports
  • Test all the buttons (power, home, volume, etc.) to make sure they work properly
  • Take a picture and a quick video to make sure the camera works
  • Make sure all accessories agreed upon are present (headphones, charger, stylus, etc.)
Once you’ve verified that the phone is as-advertised, you’re safe to complete the sale. If something doesn’t seem right, don’t be afraid to walk away or renegotiate. If you have to renegotiate, use the same strategies as before.

For example, if you were expecting the charger to come with the phone and the seller forgot it, you can explain your offer included the charger and make a counter offer to reflect the loss in value for the missing charger.

Remember: when it comes to Craigslist, all sales are final

Finally, once the transaction is complete, be sure to completely wipe the phone to erase all data and ensure your safety moving forward. Follow these tips, and you can practically guarantee a happy – and safe – transaction when you buy a used phone on Craigslist.