People! Always wipe your cell phone before you sell it, give it away, or trade it in. Do not assume or expect that someone else will do this for you! This was just one of the mistakes that led to Rachel Swanson being called by strangers several weeks after she thought she donated her old phone to charity. But the store that handled the donation, and the company responsible for actually processing the donated phones, screwed up their parts, too. Here’s how it was supposed to have work, and what you should always do before donating your phone to any organization.
To begin with, Wireless Lifestyle, the authorized Sprint dealer that accepted Swanson’s phone, didn’t sufficiently explain the process to Swanson. Wireless Lifestyle partners with Flipswap, a company that accepts used cellphones in exchange for store credit or donations to charity. Flipswap takes in these used cellphones—”between 40,000 and 45,000 phones a month,” according to the Wichita Eagle—and resells them on eBay or to overseas distributors.
Swanson could have either taken a store credit or agreed to have any proceeds from the phone donated to a charity. For whatever reason, she thought the phone itself was going to charity. We don’t really care one way or the other in this case, but wanted to explain to you how Flipswap actually works so that you’ll know better than Swanson should you decide to donate your phone through them.
As for not wiping the phone before reselling it, Flipswap told the newspaper that although they try to erase every phone that passes through, they’re not contractually obligated to do so.
You, however, are obligated to do so, if you value your privacy at all. If you don’t know how to erase the date on your phone, visit Recellular’s Data Eraser page, where you can download step-by-step instructions on a wide variety of models. (And if you can’t find your phone there, try Googling terms like “reformat” or “erase” and your phone model.)
The Wichita Eagle also offers some tips on what you should do before buying a used phone. The most important—well, after making sure the phone will work with your carrier, of course—is to ask for the phone’s electronic serial number (ESN) before you purchase it, then contact your carrier and verify that the ESN isn’t blocked. From what we understand, very few carriers actually block ESNs with any regularity, because it’s not in their financial interest to do so, but better safe than sorry.