How To Safely Buy An iPhone On eBay

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There's two reasons to be hunting for an iPhone on eBay right now:

  1. You have T-Mobile (or any other non-AT&T carrier) and want an iPhone
  2. You can't wait 11 days for the iPhone 3G

The iPhone 3G will not be usable with non AT&T carriers, atleast not for a while. AT&T and Apple decided to only allow people to activate the iPhone 3G in-store, as opposed to from home via iTunes (to keep people from unlocking the device). And for all we know, the security on the iPhone 3G could be real tight – so maybe it'll never even get unlocked.

So since the iPhone "2G" – the original – is no longer in production, you can only get it on eBay (or from a friend).

Also, with the iPhone 3G coming out July 11th, Ebay's gonna be buzzin' with iPhone stuff. So, for these reasons, we present to you…

How to Safely Buy An iPhone On eBay

  • The Basics
    • Familiarize yourself with eBay's Trust & Safety program
      • eBay Feedback
        • Always note a seller's feedback score and comments – it tells you a lot about the seller. Make sure the seller isn't just dealing with a bunch of very low priced items – this is a tactic scammers use to build up their scores.
      • Always Contact the Seller
        • If you have any questions about the item, email the seller BEFORE you bid.
        • Ask the seller the following questions:
          • Is this iPhone jailbroken?
          • Is this iPhone unlocked?
          • Was it ever jailbroken/unlocked in the past?
          • Is this a refurbished $250 model from AT&T?
          • Is this iPhone still under warranty?
      • Buyer Protection
        • For nearly all items, eBay offers a Standard Purchase Protection Program which gives coverage of up to $200 (minus a $25 processing fee). You can get up to $2,000 protection with no processing fee when you pay with PayPal from a listing displaying the PayPal Buyer Protection message.
        • You can rely on Buyer Protection, but at the end of the day, realize that it'll take a lot of time and effort to get your money back – so it's a last resort which is best avoided.
      • Use PayPal to pay for your items
        • PayPal, the safe and easy way to pay on eBay, is the eBay preferred online payment service that lets you pay by credit card or checking account for all your items. It's fast, easy, and secure.
      • Dispute Resolution
        • It is rare that something will go wrong with a transaction, but if it does contact the seller to try and work things out. If that doesn't correct the situation, consider using eBay's Item Not Received or Significantly Not as Described process to resolve the situation.
    • Common eBay Scams (and signs of scams)
      • If seller claims only contact method is an email which is in the text portion of the eBay listing, leave the listing immediately.
      • Short duration listing is a sign of a scam for no scammer wants their listing to hang around for a while. (NOTE: Not all short duration listings are scams, but most scams are short duration listings.)
      • Don't deal with sellers who are "temporarily" out of the country.
      • Make sure the currency matches the location. There's no reason Steve from Dallas should be converting your bid to Euros.
      • Always note return policy and shipping charges.
      • Look at a seller's feedback carefully – it's not all about the points.
      • It's very suspicious if a seller has a wide array of completely different high-priced items for sale at the same time.
      • If photo is a copy of other listings (not stock photo) then it's highly suspicious.
      • Scammers frequently post listings in random and incorrect categories.
      • Use your judgement!
  • What you need to know about the iPhone
    • Jailbroken
      • Is this iPhone currently jailbroken? If not, was it in the past?
      • Does it have applications on it?
      • What method did you use to jailbreak your iPhone?
    • Unlocked
      • Is this iPhone currently unlocked?
      • How did you unlock it?
      • Did you unlock it and then restore it back?
      • Are there any hardware mods?
      • Are there any irreversible software mods in place?
    • Warranty
      • Has the warranty on this iPhone expired?
      • If not, how much time is left?
      • If the iPhone was bought refurbished from AT&T Wireless, was the 1 year warranty renewed by the seller upon purchase?
    • Version
      • Which version of the iPhone Firmware does it run (1.1.1, 1.1.2, 1.1.3, 1.1.4)?
      • When 2.0 releases, note that the "jailbreak" hack will become obsolete. Same goes for unlocked devices. So if you're looking to use an unlocked or jailbroken iPhone – you can't use an iPhone 3G or an iPhone 2G with firmware 2.0 loaded.
    • iPhone 3G
      • The iPhone 3G will be released July 11th. The eBay listings for iPhone 3G's are a scheme to get you to pay lots and then wait lots – DON'T DO IT! Wait for July 11th.

Note: Do not fall for the super-cheap auctions selling "programs which unlock your iPhone". Unlocking your iPhone is free and easy. Just search Google – there are many methods.

We recommend that you purchase a "virgin" iPhone – not unlocked, and not jailbroken. Unlocking and jailbreaking have become extremely easy and quick to do, it's best to do it yourself than to have others potentially mess something up.

And finally, what is a fair price for an unlocked brand new 8GB iPhone on eBay?

$450 (+/- $50)

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And what's the price for a locked, factory sealed 8GB iPhone on eBay?


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Keep in mind the concept of supply and demand. Right now, supply for the original iPhone is extremely low (it's no longer in production) and demand is fairly high. Hence the ridiculously high prices (especially relative to the $200 8GB iPhone 3G which is coming out soon).

That being said, now isn't the best time to buy an iPhone on eBay. Once the iPhone 3G comes out, however, people will be selling their original iPhones to get money for their 3G's. So if you can, hold out another 11 days.

Also, for the small business owners see mobile credit card processing apps