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How to Sell Your Old Phone Safely

The high cost of a new phone can be a hard pill to swallow, but it becomes easier if you sell your old one. Here’s how to make sure your personal information is securely wiped before you hand your phone off to a stranger.

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How to Sell Your Old Phone Safely
, New York Times

The high cost of a new phone can be a hard pill to swallow, but it becomes easier if you sell your old one. Here’s how to make sure your personal information is securely wiped before you hand your phone off to a stranger.

First: Back It Up

Before you do anything, back up all the data currently on your phone. Not only will this prevent you from losing precious photos, but it’ll also make setting up your new phone a breeze, since you can restore all your apps, contacts and other data from the backup.

IPHONE USERS: If you’re signed into iCloud, there’s a good chance your phone is already backing itself up automatically (you can check by going to Settings > Your Name > iCloud > iCloud Backup and making sure the switch is “On”). But iCloud storage is limited, and it takes a long time to download all that data, so if you’re moving to a new phone, I recommend backing up manually to iTunes on your computer.

To do so, plug your iPhone into your PC or Mac and launch iTunes. Click the iPhone button that appears in the top-left corner of the toolbar, and click the “Back Up Now” button. This process may take a few minutes, but when it’s done, you’ll have your important information backed up to your computer, and your new phone will prompt you to restore from iTunes during the initial setup.

ANDROID USERS: Every Android phone is a little different, and you’ll probably have to do some digging to make sure everything is backed up before continuing. Your contacts, calendar and other similar data are probably already synced with your Google account, and you can automatically back up app data, call history, device settings, photos and text messages from Settings > System > Backup (just make sure the switch is turned on). But it couldn’t hurt to go through your apps and make sure their settings are backed up somewhere, too.

If you log into an app with an account, it probably backs up your data regularly to that account. In other cases, you may need to manually create a backup file from that app’s settings. Then you can plug your phone into your computer, drag those backup files onto your desktop (I’d also drag your photos over, just in case) and store them safely for your next phone. If you aren’t sure if you have everything, it might be a good idea to buy your new phone before selling the old one, so you can make sure you have what you need before wiping.

Deregister Your Accounts

Before you erase everything, you should “deregister” your phone from your accounts. This ensures that the phone’s new owner won’t run into problems when he or she tries to activate the phone, and that you can’t track the phone’s location after you sell it.

IPHONE USERS: First, head to Settings > Your Name and tap “Sign Out” at the bottom of the screen. This will remove the device from your account, allowing the new owner to activate the phone with his or hers. If you have an Apple Watch, you’ll want to unpair that as well, and if you’re moving to a non-iPhone, you’ll want to deregister iMessage or you may not get text messages from other iPhone users on your new phone.

ANDROID USERS: Most Android phones shouldn’t run into trouble if someone else tries to activate them with a new account, but to be safe, it’s a good idea to sign out of your Google account before resetting your phone. Head to Settings > Users & Accounts, tap on your Google account and tap the “Remove Account” button. If you have a Samusng phone, you should also sign out of your Samsung account from Settings > Accounts > Samsung Account — tap the three dots in the corner and choose “Remove Account.” (Note that these menus may be slightly different for different phones.)

Securely Wipe Your Data

Once you’re sure you have everything backed up, you’re ready to erase that data from your device. Take care, though: This needs to be done in a way that ensures the phone’s new owner can’t recover any of your personal information.

When you delete a file from your phone or computer, it isn’t actually erased. The device just marks that space “free” to overwrite with other data. But anyone with easy-to-obtain recovery software can view recently deleted files, which means your personal information is at risk.

That’s one of the reasons encrypting your devices is so important — especially if you’re going to erase and sell them. If your device is encrypted before performing a factory reset, any leftover data on the device will appear as a jumbled mess to anyone who tries to recover it, and your personal information will remain secret and safe.

IPHONE USERS: Thankfully, every iPhone since the 3GS is encrypted by default. (In fact, there’s not even a way to turn it off.) If you have an iPhone, you can securely erase your device by heading to Settings > General > Reset and tapping “Erase All Content and Settings.” When the process is finished, it will return you to the “Welcome” screen you originally saw when you bought the phone.

ANDROID USERS: Many Android devices are encrypted, but it varies depending on the manufacturer and age of your device. So we recommend a few extra steps before erasing your Android-based smartphone. Head to Settings > Security and look for an “Encryption” setting. If you see something that says your phone is encrypted, you’re good to go — otherwise, tap “Encrypt Phone” to start the process. (Again, these instructions may be slightly different depending on your phone.)

The encryption process may take a few hours, but once it’s finished, you can now proceed to erase your phone. Head to Settings > System > Reset Options and choose “Erase All Data (Factory Reset).” Once that’s done, your phone will be as good as new.

If you have a particularly old Android phone, you may not have an option to encrypt it. You can, however, factory reset your phone, then use an app like iShredder 5 to erase the free space on the phone, then perform another factory reset.

Get Your Phone Ready for Sale

Now that your device is wiped, you’re ready to post your phone and get that cash! Now is a good time to remove your SIM card on the side of your phone using a small paper clip. This occasionally contains personal information, and it’s also linked to your cellular account, so you’ll need it to activate your new phone.

If you’re using an Android phone with an SD card, you’ll probably want to remove that as well. While you can erase the SD card and include it in the sale, it’s more complex to erase it securely, so it’s better to just keep it. If you want to include a microSD card to increase the sale price, you can buy a good one for $20 or less.

Then, be sure to give your phone a good cleaning with a soft, dry cloth to get dirt, grime and fingerprints off it (especially if you had a case, which can really cake dirt on the edges). Take good photos of the phone — somewhere with good lighting and a white background is ideal — and post it for sale. The more accessories you include, like the original charger, headphones and box, the more money you can get — especially if you sell somewhere like Swappa, which doesn’t have the hefty fees that sites like eBay can charge. Just be sure to leave yourself a little room for negotiation on your list price in case people try to talk you down.

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