Buying A Cellphone From Craigslist?

I just purchased my first cell phone from a random person on craigslist and thought I’d share my thoughts…(it was a great experience.  i saved a bunch of money and got to meet someone I never would have)

1.  Why buy a cellphone off craigslist?
a.  you want a new phone, but you’re not eligible for an upgrade yet
b.  you lost your cell phone, and don’t have insurance to help replace it

2.  How much should you expect to pay for a phone off Craigslist?
-for a “Never Used, Brand New In Box (NIB)” phone, you should expect to pay somewhere between 40-60% off the full retail price of the phone

-let’s take for example, the different prices you’d pay for a recently released phone:  HTC Rezound
(prices based off
a.  no contract, full retail price = $739
b.  2 year contract renewal discounted price = $249
c.  craigslist price = ~$350-400

3.  What should you look for in the cell phone ad?
-first, it should go without saying that there are a lot of sketchy people on craigslist, so you need to filter out legitimate ads from shady ones…

-here is an example of a legit sounding ad that I would have no problem buying

HTC Rezound – BRAND NEW SEALED IN BOX – VERIZON – clean ESN – $350 (cerritos, ca) 

I am selling a brand new HTC Rezound (Verizon network)
-it has never been opened or used
-it is still sealed in its original packaging
-the phone has a clean ESN (never been activated, no previous owner)
-the phone was purchased 2 weeks ago and includes the original manufacturer 1 year warranty (I have the receipt if you want a copy).
-local pickup only.

-I have bolded the 2 most important details above to look for in any ad…
a.  you want to buy a brand new phone that hasn’t been used, preferably still in its original packaging (if they don’t have the original packaging, most the time it’s because it’s a lost or stolen phone…which leads to the next point)
b.  you want to ensure the phone has a “clean ESN”  (ESN stands for electronic serial number…a “clean ESN” means a phone that has a clean record on the carrier’s network.  If a phone has been stolen and reported to the carrier, or if the phone has an existing balance with the carrier, the phone is considered not to have a “clean ESN” and cannot be activated, which means you just bought a phone that can’t be used.  So, when you contact the seller, always ask them to provide you with the ESN number (or IMEI number).  The ESN number can almost always be found by removing the battery and looking underneath at a sticker on the phone.  Once you get this number from the seller, just call the carrier and they will verify that it is a “clean ESN” right over the phone.  I usually hate calling the carrier, but this is actually a very fast process, and definitely necessary to make sure you will be able to use the phone.

4.  Where to meet the person?
-meet in a public place like a Starbucks, grocery store, etc.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by r.yan on January 19, 2012 at 2:23 am

    Nice post. As someone who has sold several phones on craigslist through the years, I support that marketplace over ebay.

    yuki on.


  2. Posted by KATHY on April 19, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    how do you know which carrier to contact?


    • Hi Kathy,

      Thanks for the question. If the seller doesn’t post the carrier information with the ad, then just do a quick google search for the name/model of the cell phone. This should bring up results that will say in the title whether the phone is (Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc). Ex. try googling HTC Rezound, and you will see the first result lists (Verizon Wireless) in parentheses next to the phone name. Hope that helps!


  3. Posted by Ron on October 26, 2012 at 4:09 am

    Clean esn does not always mean good deal. I purchased an AT&T iPhone 4S off of Craigslist. I did my homework and verified the IMEI was clean and was not activated on any accounts. Lord and behold 2 weeks later the phone was blocked and I could no longer use the phone. I called AT&T and found out it had been reported stolen after I had purchased it. According to their customer service rep even if the phone is not active on the original owners account as long as it was previously on there they can still report it lost or stolen. The only true way to guarantee a smooth deal is to do a Transfer of Ownership and make sure you verify they are indeed the original owner of the phone and record their information like their full name, address, phone number, and get them to print their name with a signature stating they transfer ownership of the phone to you that way they cannot later claim the phone was stolen.


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