Warning: eBay Scam Targetting Used iPhone Sellers

Trying to sell your old iPhone on eBay? Be careful. There is a scam being run that you should be aware of. You’ll end up with no money and an unusable iPhone. This happened to one of our customers recently and I’d like to share the story to save someone else from this pain.

iPhone eBay Scam
iPhone eBay Scam

A few weeks a go a customer brought his son’s cracked iPhone 4 into our Redmond, WA store to get the screen fixed. We did our thing and the guy left with a fully functioning iPhone. Three weeks later he returned with some serious problems. The phone was locked out from too many attempts at the passcode (that wonderful message saying “22 million minutes before you can try again”), it wouldn’t charge any longer, and it had been switched from English to Spanish. The customer wanted to know what we could do to fix it. After all, he figured it was somehow related to our repair from three weeks earlier.

This was something we had never seen before and we were pretty perplexed until we opened up the phone again. Inside was a disaster.

  • A metal plate was ripped off a the charging port.
  • One of the screw holes on the top left part of the motherboard was ripped apart (as if someone tried to pull the motherboard out without removing the screw).
  • There was an inky substance all over the motherboard.
  • It had the look of being water damaged.

It was very clear to us that, while the phone might be the same phone we fixed, the phone had been tampered with since our repair and we were very suspicious that the phone had a different motherboard in it.

We told the customer our conclusions and he took the phone back home to talk to his son. A few hours later we received a phone call from the customer. I’m paraphrasing here but this is basically what he said:

“I’m sorry for the hassle today. I talked with my son and it turns out he sold his phone on eBay after you fixed it. The buyer received it, said it didn’t work, and sent it back to him. As soon as he got it back, the phone was all messed up. We were scammed.”

Here’s what happened:

  1. This poor kid sold his fully functional iPhone on eBay.
  2. The buyer received it and pulled the motherboard out. The motherboard is the brains of the phone and without it the phone is useless. It also happens to be the most valuable part of the phone.
  3. The buyer then put a damaged motherboard back in the phone. A motherboard that was broken and useless.
  4. The buyer then filed a complaint with eBay saying he received a non-working device, got a refund, and mailed the, now basically worthless, phone back to the unsuspecting kid.
  5. The buyer walked away with something worth a couple hundred dollars and the seller got back a worthless product.

That’s the scam.

The question you probably have is how to avoid getting scammed yourself if you’re going to sell your own iPhone on eBay.

First and foremost you should realize that eBay almost always sides with the buyer, so you may just be out of luck if you sell your device to someone that pulls this trick. But there are a few things you can do to protect yourself.

  1. Make sure your eBay buyer has a good rating and decent number of reviews. You can even setup your selling preferences to only allow buyers with a certain rating. If you see just a few (or no) reviews of the buyer, beware. This doesn’t mean it’s a scam, but it’s a big sign.
  2. Make sure to include the serial number and IMEI number of your device in your listing. Then if you do end up getting the device back, you can try to argue with eBay that it’s not the same device you mailed in. This might work but don’t count on it (especially if you get back a completely dead motherboard that you can’t power up to get this information).
  3. Don’t sell internationally. Only accept buyers from your home country.
  4. You could mark the phone “AS IS” with no returns. The problem with doing this is you won’t get as much money (people will be worried you’re trying to scam them). In addition, eBay may take your money away anyway if the buyer complains that the device didn’t work as advertised.
  5. Try emailing back and forth with your buyer a couple of times after the purchase to get a feel for their honesty. This isn’t fool proof, but it’s also easy to do and can be telling.
  6. If they’re paying with Paypal, make sure the buyer has a verified address.
  7. Consider asking the buyer to send you a check. Then mail the device after the check clears. A lot of buyers won’t do this but it never hurts to ask. Your odds of getting this to work go up significantly if you have a high rating on eBay and the buyer doesn’t.
  8. If you’re not sure about a buyer, don’t do it. Cancel the transaction.

There is one other big option available to you: Don’t use eBay to sell your iPhone.

You could try Craigslist. It comes with its own set of risks but if you meet in a public place and require cash payment, you should be okay.

You could try Gazelle.com or go to a local Gamestop and sell it. These are super secure options that are simple and easy.

The big problem with these non-eBay options is  you won’t get as much money. You might come close on Craigslist but you’ll get significantly less on Gazelle or Gamestop. For example, right now Gazelle & Gamestop are both offering $150 for a used, 8GB iPhone 4S on AT&T in good condition. A similar phone on eBay sells for between $250-$300.

Other ideas on how to make eBay selling safer? Please leave a comment below to share with others.

4 thoughts on “Warning: eBay Scam Targetting Used iPhone Sellers

  1. An interesting ending to our customer’s story. He ended up appealing the decision with eBay and they contacted us directly to check his story. They ended up giving him back his $300 after talking with us.

    I love happy endings.

  2. K. Clark says:

    Great information. I wish I had read it before I listed my iPhone on eBay. (Ends tomorrow) however better late than never because I plan to record the phone in its good costmetic and operating condition right before I seal it up in the ultra padded bubble envelope. Other than that and insurance I’m not sure what else I can do.

  3. D. Long says:

    Watch out for buyers who buy tons of phones and never sell. I sold a new, sealed LG L90 to one and he claims his SIM card won’t fit. Since T-Mobile says they can send him a SIM free, I don’t buy his story. Never offer returns.

  4. DO says:

    do not ever list your MEID or IMEI on ebay . People can activate your phone and get paid for doing that and they can report it stolen . Never publish those numbers

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