How to wipe a phone to sell: An eBay checklist

Written By: Ontrack

Date Published: September 06, 2022

How to wipe a phone to sell: An eBay checklist

Whether or not we choose to line up outside the Apple store every September for the latest iPhone launch, most of us nowadays replace our smartphones with some regularity. After all, it’s still common to buy handsets on 18 or 24-month contracts and then upgrade again after they expire. The outcome? We end up with stacks of perfectly good technology kicking around unused. There is, of course, one solution to this problem: selling your old smartphones online - typically on sites such as eBay. This may seem like a simple process, but recent studies have proved this is not the case. So, how do you safely wipe a phone to sell?

How not to wipe a phone to sell!

A study commissioned by Comparitech found that one in five secondhand mobile phones still contain personally identifiable data from previous owners. Out of 100 secondhand smartphones bought on eBay, 19 per cent of the phones contained data from previous owners, and 17 per cent had personally identifiable data, e.g. tax documents, bank account details, text messages, private emails, and intimate photos.

Some examples of the data found on the phones included:

  • A P11D Expenses and Benefits form for 2012-13. Containing the employer’s name, PAYE reference, payroll number, National Insurance Number, and date of birth.
  • A contact list with 30 entries, including the previous owner’s number, a recent calls list, and 114 text messages including sexts and seven multimedia messages.
  • Phone number, email address, and bank account details. 532 personal pictures and 16 videos. A list of calls made between October 2015 and January 2016.
  • Several active social media accounts into including Facebook, Instagram, and Skype.
  • Apple ID and password, eBay username and password, 408 pictures, and web browsing history.
  • Contact list and recent calls, as well as four email accounts.
  • An email account that was logged into and still active.
  • Evidence that the phone belonged to a child from Ringwood, Hampshire, with contacts and notes.

How to wipe a phone to sell?

Well, the site itself has its list of pointers, which include setting a reasonable price, writing a concise and accurate description, and taking lots of pretty pictures. However, one thing that isn’t covered is securely erasing your data. Nobody in their right mind would sell a smartphone full of their old selfies, so it’s essential to take steps to ensure the transaction won’t put your personal information at risk.

Most handsets have a factory reset function. Alarmingly, as the study by Comparitech shows, there are still a significant number of people failing to erase personal data on their phones before reselling them. This could be due to a lack of education, a lack of concern, or the failure of understanding the risks of exposing personal data.

If you don’t like the idea of your data ending up in someone else’s hands, follow our checklist to ensure you’re only auctioning off hardware in you eBay smartphone sale, not your privacy.

Step one: Remove your SIM card

You probably shouldn’t need to be told to remove the SIM card from your old smartphone before shipping it out to an eBay buyer. However, there’s always a chance you might overlook this if you’re switching to a new network and are therefore getting a replacement SIM.

A SIM card can contain quite a lot of personal information, including contacts, SMS data and call logs, and should be of absolutely no value to the person who purchases your old device. As such, you should always remove it before the sale, preferably disposing of it securely if you aren’t going to use it again.

Step two: Remove or wipe your microSD card

Most smartphones have microSD card slots. They allow users to expand on their limited internal storage with additional flash memory for photos, videos and other data. As with a SIM card, there’s a chance you might overlook removing a microSD card. Or, if you’re switching to a handset that offers internal storage only, you might choose to bundle your old one with the smartphone to sweeten the deal for the buyer.

If this is the case, be sure to erase the card’s contents securely. Simply deleting the files is not always enough, so consider the use of a specialist data destruction tool.

Step three: Wipe your device’s internal storage

It’s finally time to wipe your device’s internal storage. Safe in the knowledge that even with sophisticated data recovery tools, malicious buyers won’t be able to retrieve anything. If you’re using an iPhone, look for the option, Erase all Content and Settings in the settings menu. On Android, the factory reset function is normally located under Backup and reset, although this may vary according to manufacturer and version.

You’ve now prepared your mobile device for sale on eBay. You should now have a fair degree of certainty that you’re not short-changing yourself by selling off your personal information. If you’re still not confident your data is gone, you can always switch to a dedicated data erasure tool.


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