How To: Avoid sketch-ball sellers on Craigslist, and find your next smartphone

As someone who is deeply submerged into the world of consumer electronics (with an enfaces on smartphones), I receive many questions from friends and acquaintances. Some of the most popular questions I get asked is: Where can I buy a used phone for cheap, and in really good condition? My answer to that is Craigslist. In the past four years, I’ve owned much devices, including the HTC G1, Nexus One, BlackBerry Pearl (8100), Motorola Cliq, Samsung Galaxy S (Vibrant), HTC myTouch 4G, Nexus S 4G, and now an iPhone 4S. Every phone I listed except for the Pearl and NS4G, I bought off Craigslist.

Now lets get to the real reason why I am writing this “How To” post. Many of you want to buy smartphones off Craigslist, but fear the sketchiness of certain sellers. Having doubts when it comes to spending your hard-earned cash on some whim that you’ll get the “best deal ever,” is understandable. Thing is — Craigslist is dangerous — you not only have to watch yourself from potential harm, but avoid getting swindled, or hoodwinked. Here’s a list of commands I follow on a potential deal:

  1. Check for listings that have legit pictures of the phone. This gives you an idea that you’re inquiring information on a phone that actually exists.
  2. Ignore companies or “dealers,” focus on actual owners. These entities are swarming Craigslist with deals that require some sort of contract agreement.
  3. The smartphone needs to have all of its units. Make sure the phone you’re interested in has most if not all accessories that comes with the handset (box, charger, etc.). If the seller has the phone only it suggests that he or she could have stolen it.
  4. Make sure the phone works. If you have a cell phone in mind, then you need be diligent when it comes finding out as much information about it as possible. For instance, phones from Sprint and Verizon run on CDMA networks (no SIM card), so you have to make sure the ESN (phone I.D. Number) is free of a past due bill. This is VERY important, as sellers always try to sell off phones with unpaid bills — with unpaid bill, these phones are useless.
  5. Meet in public. Always try to meet the seller in a public place (mall, coffee shop, restaurant, etc.), as this gives you some security.

At the end of the day, you don’t have to be psychic to find the best deal, you just have to trust your gut. If your gut says it’s a bad deal, or it’s too good to be true, then theirs a good chance it is. Furthermore, it’s great to always ask questions, as you’re spending hundreds of dollars for a smartphone off the street. Follow my steps and you’ll be able to weave through most of the shadiness.

When it comes to Craigslist, do you have steps that you follow? Please feel free to tell us in our trusty comment section below.