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Buying Cell Phones and Accessories

There are a number of things you should know before buying a cell phone on an auction site - among them, you need to be sure that the phone will work with your cellular service provider and, if buying a used phone, that the phone can be activated! Here are some essential things you should keep in mind:

  • Locked vs Unlocked - A locked phone is proprietary to a particular carrier, and unlocked phone is not.
  • Find out your carrier's (phone service provider's) requirements. Which band do they use? CDMA? GSM? TDMA? PCS? Something else? Give them a call and ask what to look for. An Unlocked phone will only work on your carrier if the band is the same.
  • SIM cards - If your current phone has a SIM card, that can be used to transfer your information to a new phone as long as the new phone is either GSM Unlocked or a GSM phone for your carrier.
  • ESN's - An ESN is the Electronic Serial Number of the phone. It is important to know this before buying a used phone as it enables you to check on the phone's status. For example, if there is an outstanding bill you may not be able to activate the phone! Likewise if the phone has been marked as lost or stolen. Sprint, Verizon and US Cellular are three popular services that have this policy. Get the ESN and contact your carrier before buying.
  • GPS and E911 - By US law, all phones activated after 8/2005 must be GPS enabled, in order for 911 operators to locate callers. Phones without this capability cannot be activated.
  • Seller's return policy and conditions of sale - Used cell phones tend to have more problems overall than many other items. Be sure your seller allows returns in case the phone turns out to be unsatisfactory or defective. Avoid items sold "As Is".
  • Read descriptions, ask questions, check feedback - Know what you're buying (and who you're buying from) before you bid!

There are some excellent buyers guides on eBay ( - we highly recommend you stop by and check them out!

Buying accessories or parts for your phone is much easier! Just be sure you buy items compatible with or manufactured for your make and model of phone. Some of the accessories you can add are:

  • Chargers, cables and batteries - make sure you buy the right one for your make and model of phone!
  • Keyboards - convenient if you do a lot of e-mailing, web surfing or other work from your phone. Again, check for compatibility.
  • SIM cards
  • Headsets and Hands-free kits for convenience and safety - in many placees, the only way you can legally use your cell phone while driving.
  • Phone holders, cases and straps
  • Decorative items, like faceplates and charms to give your phone a new look.

Two terms you may encounter when buying phone accessories are OEM and Aftermarket.

OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer and means that the item was manufactured by the company that made the phone (i.e. Motorola). It may or may not include the original packaging but should include all items that were in the original box - ask the seller if the description is unclear.

Aftermarket means that the items are compatible with the product but not made by the same manufacturer. They may or may not be of the same quality.


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