How to Tell If Cell Phone Is New or Refurbished

By Louise Balle

Updated September 28, 2017

Some cell phones are clearly second-hand. They're damaged physically and barely functional after years of use. But it's not always so easy to tell when your cell phone is refurbished versus new. Cell phone providers commonly resell refurbished phones to customers—these phones have been very gently used. For instance, if a previous customer returned the phone within his warranty period, the cell phone provider, an independent seller, or insurance company may fix it up then resell it at a discount. There are a few ways that you can tell a refurbished cell phone.

Look at the offered price of the phone compared to the retail price of the phone. If it's deeply discounted, even though the phone is a fairly new release or popular, chances are it's refurbished and the retailer is trying to sell his stock of refurbished phones off.

Check the cell phone casing (near or behind the battery) to see if the water detection sticker is red. This indicates that there has been previous water damage to the phone—a new phone has a striped or otherwise patterned sticker. Keep in mind that in some cases the refurbisher will replace the sticker.

Pay attention to the phone's behavior over the first few weeks or months. A refurbished phone is more likely to show signs of defect early on because it's been used previously, and possibly returned due to a defect that wasn't resolved in the refurbishing process.

Examine the cell phone under a bright light to check for scratches on the phone. Even the slightest scratch is an indication that the phone might be refurbished. Factory new phones come right off of the assembly line into the boxes—they don't have scratches from use.

Check the available warranty coverage on the phone. If your only option is a warranty from a third-party provider, not one directly from the manufacturer, there's a good chance that it is a refurbished phone.

Ask the cell phone provider directly if it's refurbished. Cell phone providers are required to disclose this information to customers. Selling the phone as new when refurbished is false advertising.