You’ve probably heard the saying “if a deal is too good to be true, it probably is.” That is very often the case when buying a device on the secondary market. There’s a reason someone is selling a phone for a fraction of the retail price – frequently because it’s stolen.

And it’s not just phones. Bad guys may try to sell other things too, like connection services or data plans.

The deal can be attractive. If it’s a phone, the bad guy may be trying to sell it before it’s reported stolen, because carriers can disable a stolen device turning it into a very expensive paperweight. If you do buy a stolen phone, it will arrive as promised, but then you can’t activate it. When you call your carrier for help, you learn the device is stolen and “blacklisted.”

The best way to buy a phone is through a carrier or authorized retailer. AT&T offers used and refurbished phones on our website. With many secondary market sales, purchases are final. So if there is a problem with the device, you may not be able to get your money back, unlike buying from a carrier or authorized retailer.

If you don’t go through a carrier, here are a few simple and smart tips to help make sure the device you buy is not stolen and will work on your carrier’s network.

  • Buy from a reputable venue or seller. Even if using one of the well-known online sales sites, make sure to review the site’s policies and safeguards, including return policies, to better protect buyers from scams.
  • Listings, no matter the site, should feature some basic information about the device. Original carrier, color, model number, storage capacity, condition and an original proof of purchase should all be provided. The listing should include a photo of the actual device, not an official product shot of that phone model.
  • Ask the seller for the International Mobile Equipment Identity, or IMEI, number or photos of the device displaying its unique IMEI number from the settings screen. Every phone has a unique number and new phones have a 15-digit IMEI. Cell phone carriers keep a record of IMEI numbers activated on their network. The company can disable phones reported stolen, making the device unusable even if the SIM card is changed. If the seller is unwilling to share this info, that's a red flag the device maybe stolen.

When it comes to buying other things, like connection services or data plans, ones you buy from a nonauthorized retailer may work for a while. But if they’re stolen or unauthorized, they can suddenly be turned off with little or no warning and you lose service.

To protect yourself, verify that you are buying services from an authorized retailer. To check this, you can call customer service for the carrier they claim to work for to find out if the offer or service they are selling is legitimate. Be sure to use a number from a confirmed, secure source or website, not one the retailer gives you.

More Information

AT&T has made it easy to validate a device’s IMEI number and avoid being scammed. Visit Bring your own device to AT&T to learn more before buying a phone from a secondary market.