The dangers of selling your smartphone second-hand in South Africa

South Africans looking to sell their old smartphones should take care to use appropriate reselling channels and remove all data from their devices.

Many people save sensitive personal data on their smartphones, whether it is within discrete files or applications.

This data includes:

  • Passwords for accounts which are stored in the web browser’s autofill and the phone’s file system.
  • Credit card numbers stored in the web browser’s autofill and downloaded credit card statements.
  • Bank account info contained in downloaded bank statements.
  • ID numbers in documents sent and received in the email inbox.
  • Phone call records and text messages stored in phone logs.
  • Names and addresses in the web browser’s autofill and contact book.
  • Recently visited sites in the phone’s browser history.
  • Location information from photo metadata and navigation apps.
  • Recent files kept by the operating system and applications with their own lists.

Inadvertently exposing this information when you sell your phone should be avoided at all costs.

Flip Phone is a South African online-based service which allows users to sell their current phone or buy a new or certified pre-owned smartphone.

The company aims to provide a reliable and quick service for trading phones, which eliminates the risk of meeting untrusted third parties from classified sites or social media, or having to wait a long time for someone to assess the value of a device.

MyBroadband spoke to Flip Phone founder Conor Copas about the dangers of selling a smartphone second-hand and what steps to take if you plan to do so.

Risk of identity theft and fraud

Copas warned that many people forget to wipe their phones properly before selling, effectively handing over full control of their data to the new owner.

He noted that people basically keep their whole lives on their smartphone.

“From online banking, to social media apps, to family photos, the amount of personal information is staggering,” he said.

“Besides the clear risk to privacy, this information can be used for more sinister purposes such as identity theft,” he cautioned.

Aside from exposing private information, selling a second-hand smartphone comes with many of the same financial and physical risks as selling other items in South Africa.

Because they are small high-value items, smartphones are a popular target for thieves and fraudsters.

When it comes to selling online, sellers are often scammed out of their money with fraudulent documentation, Copas said.

“We’ve heard horror stories from customers about fake cheques and edited proof of payments – and we’ve had to deal with our fair share of fraud ourselves.”

What you should do before selling

In order to ensure the information of all people who sell their devices to Flip Phone is protected, the company uses a triple factory reset procedure, which wipes all data from the phone.

“Before the phone comes in, we ask that the seller performs a factory reset. If this isn’t done, the first thing we’ll do is perform a reset ourselves,” Copas noted.

They then perform a full testing cycle on the phone before refurbishing, factory resetting, and setting it up again, in order to prepare the phone for dispatching.

“Before dispatch, we run our full suite of tests again, before performing a final factory reset and packaging the device,” Copas said.

Copas explained that at the minimum, you should perform a full factory reset on your phone and remove any Google or iCloud accounts from the device before selling.

“This will generally ensure that it’s safe to hand the phone over and that the buyer won’t have any reason to contact you,” he noted.

No additional software is needed for this procedure, Copas added.

“These days the phone’s built-in factory reset option is more than good enough,” he noted.

He explained that while a lot of software claims to ‘shred’ data, this is more for marketing than of any substance, especially given how NAND flash actually works.

“All the phones that we deal with were originally shipped with full disk encryption, so behind the scenes when a reset is performed the master key for data is overwritten,” Copas said.

How to factory reset your phone

To reset your smartphone before selling, back up any data you may need and do the following:

  • iOS phones – Navigate to Settings, then General, and hit Reset.
  • Android phones – Open Settings, hit General management, tap Reset, and hit Factory data reset. The exact procedure may differ based on the overlying interface and Android version.

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The dangers of selling your smartphone second-hand in South Africa