How Not To Buy A Phone On Craigslist

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

They’re called “smash-and-grabs.” Thieves break the front glass window of a store and snatch up all the smartphones and tablets they can. Where do those stolen goods go? They go right back up for sale.

The Verizon store on South Greenwich was hit three times in a matter of months. At Z Wireless on West Maple, the bad guys smashed the front window and got away with thousands of dollars in smartphones and tablets.

“We have security alarms,” said Daniel Ramirez of MobileComm. “We leave as a group, We have bars on the windows to help us."

It’s a crime trend that’s sweeping the city. Those stolen phones end up in the hands of innocent victims, like 17-year-old Gabby Yeager.

“Someone told me to look on Craigslist because they had cheap used iPhones," Yeager said.

She found exactly what she was looking for: a new phone for just $200.

"It was two females,” Yeager said. “They told me it was a cricket iPhone, ready to use. I could use it."

Bob Amidon is the director of sales for the local MobileComm cell store. He buys and sells phones on Craigslist all time.

He said, "If you are going to buy a phone, ask, ‘is this clean to activate?’"

When a phone is reported to the cell provider as lost or stolen, it becomes blacklisted. The phone will turn off and on, but it cannot be activated. So, what you end up with is a very expensive mp3 player.

We went undercover to see just how big the problem has become. It wasn’t hard to find phones for sale on Craigslist—hundreds and hundreds of local ads within hours. The woman agreed to meet us in a public parking lot. She had a 32-gig Samsung Galaxy 3 for sale, a phone that retails for around $700. We paid just $250.

She said she needed the money for her daughter’s cheerleading camp.

After paying the woman, we immediately tried to activate the phone.

"This phone has been reported stolen," said MobileComm owner Hamid Bakhtiari. "Once this goes bad on their system, can't activate it."

Police say it happens all the time to unsuspecting bargain hunters. Gabby Yeager had saved up for her phone. She finally ended up paying another $150 to have the phone transferred to another provider, but not before she called the seller.

"They even said if I have any problems with it, I could call them back,” Yeager said. “I did have a problem with it, so I called and they said, ‘sucks for you.’ That made me mad."

Mad enough to file a police report, hoping to keep someone else from getting ripped off.

MobileComm says there are legitimate deals on Craigslist. But use these tips:

1. Be wary of ads without local phone numbers.

2. Meet the seller at the cell phone store.

3. Have the phone activated before you hand over any cash.

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