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ANDROID SECURITY

7 Things to Check Before Buying a Used Android Smartphone

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With premium Android models costing close to £1,000, buying a second-hand handset might seem an attractive and cost-efficient solution. But while you can pick up a refurbished Samsung Galaxy smartphone at a great price, you need to do your due diligence to make sure that you’re actually getting a safe and secure phone in the process.

The great thing about buying a second-hand handset from a retailer instead of a private buyer is that you have consumer rights that are protected by law. This means that you have 14 days to check out the phone, and you are entitled to a full refund if you return it for any reason within that timeframe.

With that being said, here are 7 things to check when buying a second-hand handset.

Is the phone still receiving security updates and patches from the manufacturer?

If the phone was released in 2012 or earlier, it is likely to be running an outdated version of Android. This means if you buy the phone, you won’t be receiving critical security updates that can keep you and your data safe from cyberattacks. Having a current OS and updated apps is one of the most important ways to protect your phone and keep it secure.

Software updates can keep malware from working on your phone in the first place. Usually, when phone manufacturers discover phone software vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cybercriminals, they get it fixed and that fix is sent out to the phone in the form of a security patch. For example, Google releases security patches for Android every month. But Google no longer issues security updates for version 6.0 of the Android operating system or below. Using a refurbished Android phone that doesn’t receive critical security updates puts your security and privacy in jeopardy.  

To check an Android OS version, tap Settings > About Phone or About Device > Tap Android version.

2. Is the phone stolen?

No matter how good the deal sounds, buying a stolen phone is a strict “hell-no!” Apart from the moral dilemma of using stolen property, there’s every chance the phone won’t be with you for long. The latest Android devices have the ability to erase the phone remotely which will render the phone completely useless. Fortunately, avoiding buying a stolen phone is a quick and easy process. You can use a mobile checking tool such as MobiCheck to check that the phone you’re buying isn’t stolen.

3. Is the phone fake?

The phone you’re interested in buying might look like the real thing from the outside, but that’s no guarantee that it is actually the real thing. The marketplace is full of millions of fake Chinese or Korean phones that are “hard to discern knockoffs”. To avoid getting ripped off, you need to check the IMEI number, serial number and model number. Every phone comes with a unique IMEI number.

Follow these steps to ensure that you’re not buying a counterfeit handset:

You can dial ^#06# on the phone to get the IMEI number. You can also get it by going to Settings > About Device> Status. The model number, serial number and IMEI will be displayed. Compare the model number with that printed on the back of the phone or its battery to see if they match. You can also check by going to imei.info. Put in the number and hit “check”. The system will automatically check the phone’s information. If it shows something different from what is on the phone, the handset is fake.

4. How reputable is the seller?

This is one of the most important things to check when buying a second-hand phone. You can often find fantastic deals from private sellers on sites like Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace or eBay. But buying from a private seller increases the odds that you may end up with a phone that’s more trouble than its worth. For this reason, you might be better off buying a refurbished phone from a retailer rather than buying a used phone from a private seller.

Refurbished phones include handsets returned by customers who changed their mind during the 30-day cooling off period after they signed a contract. Before being put on sale, these phones have been thoroughly checked and tested. Most will also offer a warrantee that allows you to get a replacement if something goes wrong with the phone within the allotted time period.

5. Does it have good battery life?

One of the most important things to check on an Android phone is its battery life. If the phone drains the battery fast even after you have rebooted the phone, consider this a red flag that the phone may be infected with malware. There may also be power-hungry 3rd party apps working in the background that are making the device work twice as hard. The most common code to check battery information across Android devices is *#*#4636#*#* To see your battery status, type the code in your phone’s dialer and select the battery information menu. If there is no issue with the battery, it will show battery health as ‘good’. You can also use AccuBattery to get more insight into the phone’s battery health.

To identify apps that may be consuming too much battery life, tap Settings > Battery usage in the three dot menu at the top right. Here, you’ll see the apps that have consumed the most battery on the phone since the last time it was charged.

6. Has the phone been paid off?

If you’re buying a used phone from a private seller, you need to prioritise checking the history of the phone before purchasing it. If the phone still has finance on it (e.g. if it’s still under contract), buying that phone would be a big risk because the phone’s carrier will block the phone until the outstanding amount is paid off by the contract owner. You can use CheckMend to check the phone’s history. CheckMend is an online searchable database. For £1.99, they will provide you with a full history of the handset.

7. Does the phone have malware preinstalled?

Before you buy your phone, one of the very first things you should always do is to research the brand of phone. This is because hundreds of different Android smartphones have been found to have malware built in. Most of the affected devices are not certified by Google, and come from manufacturers like ZFE, Archos and myPhone. You would think that taking precautions by avoiding dodgy websites and apps would be enough to keep you safe, but there’s nothing you can do when the malware actually comes preinstalled on the phone.

To check if your device is Google certified, tap Settings > Play Protect Certification

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