Buying Used Electronics? Watch Out For This

Electronics make great Christmas gifts, but they can also come with a hefty price tag. Buying used or refurbished devices helps bring that down some.

Here are some of the top recommendations for attentive shoppers when buying used electronics.

What Does Refurbished Mean?

You may see products listed with several similar-sounding terms like “used,” “preowned,” “restored,” or “refurbished.” Generally, these all mean that the product has been purchased by someone else, used for some time, and then placed back on the market.

While it’s not a guarantee, “used” and “preowned” usually mean a product has not undergone any type of restorative process, while “restored” or “refurbished” often indicate that it has been repaired or fixed up in some way. Some storefronts like Amazon also include language such as “Like New,” “Good,” “Poor,” etc., to indicate what condition the product is currently in. Be cautious though—it’s entirely up to the seller to determine which of these categories their product falls under, and not all sellers are perfectly honest.

Look At Who's Selling It

Many popular online storefronts like Amazon and Walmart allow third-party vendors to sell used and refurbished electronics through their sites. While this can be a great opportunity for shoppers and sellers alike, sometimes scams slip through the cracks.

When you’re looking at a product listing, the website should tell you who the seller is. Is the business one you recognize? If you click the name, are they verified?

See what their reviews say—both positive and negative. Having lots of reviews can be a good sign, as this usually means they haven’t written fake ones themselves—but be aware that scammers can also have bots flood their page with reviews to puff up their ratings. If the positive reviews are very short, all sound the same, or are written in strange ways, they could be fake.

Apple and Google sell certified refurbished items on their websites that come with a one-year warranty. Best Buy's Geek Squad Certified refurbished goods have also been repaired to a quality that Best Buy considers “like new." These are all great options to buy from.

Make Sure the Price is Right

Connect with your inner Bob Barker and evaluate the price of what you’re planning to buy. Used (and to a lesser extent, refurbished) electronics should be significantly cheaper than new ones. If it’s the same price to buy a new device, it’s not worth the negatives of purchasing a preowned one, and it may even be a sign of a scam.

What Does it Come With?

New electronics are often packaged with chargers, as well as any other cables or components that are necessary for them to work properly. Even legitimate sellers may not sell used devices with all the necessary parts, usually because the original owners lost or kept them. Take note of what the device comes with and whether a secondary purchase is required to get it running.

Look at the Return Policy

When buying something used, read the fine print. Can you return your item if it doesn’t work as promised? How long do you have to notice a problem and get it back to the seller? You never know what might go wrong with used electronics, even if the seller is reputable, and it’s best to have an option for returning or replacing a broken item.