Heed the call on used smartphones

MIXED BLESSING: Secondhand smartphones are certainly cheaper, but that's not the end of the story.
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MIXED BLESSING: Secondhand smartphones are certainly cheaper, but that's not the end of the story.

Buying a top-end smartphone can cost more than $1000 which is why many people end up buying secondhand devices.

The trend of ever-increasing phone prices has also caught the eyes of criminals who are targeting phones as a lucrative opportunity.

Put these two together and it adds up to a risky proposition for anyone after a good deal on a used phone.

The selling of stolen or fraudulently bought phones is a growing problem in New Zealand with nearly 90 cellphones reported lost or stolen in New Zealand every day.

This figure doesn't seem to be putting anyone off buying a secondhand phone with about 3000 secondhand phones for sale on Trade Me at any one time, with hundreds also being sold through Facebook and other sites.

The main thing to do when buying a secondhand phone is to ask the buyer for the device's unique IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number and run it through mindyourmobile.co.nz.

This website, set up by the New Zealand Telecommunications Forum (TCF) in December 2013, will then tell you if the phone has been blocked by Spark, Vodafone or 2degrees.

Phones are blocked when someone contacts the carrier to say the phone was stolen, lost or purchased fraudulently.

In its first 12 months of operation the three mobile operators blocked about 32,000 devices.

It's a great concept, though people buying secondhand phones are still getting caught out because a phone can take between 30 and 90 days to be listed on the website.

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So even if you ask a seller for the IMEI number and it checks out, the phone can still be blocked after you've bought it leaving you out of pocket.

What's a buyer to do?

The chief executive of the TCF says there is always a risk with buying secondhand phones and in the end it's a case of "buyer beware".

"We recognise there is an issue [with the waiting period] but we can only do so much," said Geoff Thorn.

"By blacklisting stolen phones we do dampen down the market but it does take time for people to work it out."

Thorn said it took about a week on average for a company or person to list their phone on the site.

He said there was no foolproof way to buy a secondhand phone. "If you want a legitimate phone then go to a shop."

This advice is backed up by Ross Parker, the general manager at phone company Skinny.

"If you are going to buy a secondhand phone I'd advise that you buy it from someone you know well or from an authorised dealer. If you don't, then you are opening yourself up to the risk that the phone wasn't purchased by genuine means."

Parker said the carriers are doing their best to discourage the stolen phone market.

"We are trying to reduce the value of stolen mobile phones in New Zealand which is a growing problem and without [mindyourmobile.co.nz] this would be getting worse."

He said that even with the website there was always going to be a risk because of the timing of the reporting of credit cards being stolen.

Apple and Google are doing their bit, too, with apps on their phones allowing owners to "kill" the device making it worthless to a thief.

The number of stolen iPhones dropped by 25 per cent in New York, by 40 per cent in San Francisco and by 50 per cent in London during the 12 months after Apple added an Activation Lock.

Despite moves to reduce thefts, the lust for a shiny phone will not diminish and criminals will still find ways to do their business. Your only real protection when buying secondhand is your instinct and the tools available.

Parker also said the old adage, if it's too good to be true then it probably is, still holds true.

"The consumer needs to take a good look at what they are buying.

"If they are buying something well below the retail price, then that should ring alarm bells."

How to find your IMEI number

Dial *#06# and the number will appear as soon as you finish dialling.

If you have an iPhone you can find the number by going to to Settings, then About.

With an Android phone go to Settings, About Phone and then Status.

 - The Press

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