How Secure Is Your Refurbished Phone?

By Damon Culbert

The smartphone market is huge and it is growing. Recent estimates say that the global smartphone penetration rate reached 46.45% in 2020, accounting for 3.6 billion of the 7.8 billion global population.

As consumers, we want the latest technology at a fraction of the cost. This means that many of us have turned to the used phone market. Buying used phones was once a challenge, with little difference between the cost of a new handset and a refurbished phone.

This is no longer the case. The IDC tells us that, like the smartphone market, the used phone market is growing too. They project that the market is set to grow to 332.9 million units and will reach a market value of $67 billion in 2023.

No wonder so many of us are tempted to buy a used phone.

In this fast-paced cyber world we live in, there are risks with any technology – whether new or used. One of the growing concerns for those looking to buy a used phone is just how secure it is. When it comes to your data security, are refurbished phones the safest option?

Your refurbished phone could be at risk

Phones have become our source for everything. We keep our entire lives on our phones, from social media and emails to travel passes and payments. Several businesses are now seeing the value of using smartphones as access control credentials to improve their on-site security. With just a tap of their phone, employees can gain access to buildings.

Despite this, most people tend not to take their phone’s safety seriously. With how advanced smartphones are, we fall into a false sense of security. We believe that it is totally secure, that the simple four-digit pin we have is enough to protect our precious data.

It isn’t.

When you purchase a used smartphone, the security risks increase. So what do you need to know before you buy?

Refurbished versus second-hand

People referring to used handsets could mean a refurbished device or a second-hand phone. Although buying one will mean saving money, there are key differences between them. What you get can make a big difference when it comes to security.

Refurbished phones are sold by the manufacturer, retailer, or reseller. Usually, the business will give the device a grade of quality so you know exactly what to expect when your device arrives. You will also get a warranty or guarantee, depending on the device and the business you buy from.

Second-hand phones are different. They tend to be sold by the last owner, so there are often no guarantees or warranties. You’ll find that they are often cheaper in price but may be more visibly worn or missing key accessories.

The rigorous quality checks refurbished phones go through, as well as the warranties and guarantees you can get, usually make refurbished phones a safer bet.

Do your research

Research is important. Most of us will take the time to look around online for the best deal, whether that’s a holiday or a new piece of technology. When it comes to the security of your refurbished phone, it pays to do your research.

Choose trusted retailers

The saying “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is” will serve you well when it comes to buying a refurbished phone and getting the best security. As we already know, refurbished smartphones often come with warranty information to help protect your purchase and your device.

Reading reviews can also help. You can learn which retailers are trusted by their customers, as well as spot complaints about devices. If someone mentions that their refurbished device came with some suspicious-looking software, you know to avoid that reseller.

Always reset the phone

When you get a new phone, it requires setting up. The same applies to refurbished devices. Some retailers might be tempted to set up the phone for you, but you’ll want to do it yourself to maximise your phone’s security.

It’s easy to do, but people won’t do it because it takes time. If you want to make sure your refurbished phone is secure, complete a factory reset.

A factory reset does exactly what it says on the tin. It takes the phone back to its original state when it first left the factory, erasing all of the data on your device. If any devices have been left signed in, this will sign them out and disconnect them from the device, giving you a blank slate to work with.

Check security updates

Depending on your device, you will stop receiving security updates after a certain amount of time has passed. This might not seem like a big deal, but if your phone isn’t receiving these updates then it is more vulnerable to attacks from hackers.

According to Which?, as many as three in 10 models on second-hand sites could be at risk of hacking because they are no longer supported by the manufacturer.

Some retailers are selling devices that are no longer receiving security updates. Many reputable retailers have updated their websites to make buyers aware of this, adding details in product descriptions if they aren’t receiving those vital updates. This allows customers to make their own decisions about whether or not to take the risk.

If you are going to take the risk to get a good deal on an older device, you might want to consider getting antivirus software onto your refurbished smartphone for additional security.

Keeping your refurbished phone secure

More and more people are looking to buy refurbished devices, as they get the smartphone they want and save money in the process. Like all technology, there are risks involved, but if you are smart about it, you can keep your refurbished phone safe and secure.

Damon Culbert is a content writer from Repair Outlet, the UK’s leading phone repair and replacement parts store

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