TAMPA (FOX 13) - People on the hunt for a deal might consider buying a used smartphone. But many times those cheap devices are too good to be true.
It's actually a really simple, and sadly, a very common scam. You get a shiny, second-hand smartphone at a steal, but suddenly it stops working.
It's a rip-off scheme cellphone shops run into daily.
"So we get 3-6 people a day at each location at CellFix," said Tony Baker.
Baker and his business partner own four stores in the Bay Area. He says people think they're getting a bargain on a pre-owned phone only to find out the device is completely useless and they're out hundreds of dollars.
"The first thing we do is we check the serial number, pops up reported lost or stolen, well you just got scammed," Baker said.
Victims won't be able to activate the device, or after a few weeks, it suddenly gets blocked.
It can happen a few ways. Sometimes the crook is selling a phone they legitimately own, but once you fork over the cash they claim it with insurance.
"The original owner will call the insurance company and claim another phone for a small deductible, while the person who paid $400 ends up with a reported lost or stolen phone, and the original owner gets a brand new phone in the mail," Baker said.
The used smartphone can also end up blacklisted if the seller stops paying the bill, cancels the account before it's paid off, or the smartphone is still listed as active on the con-artists wireless account.
"The device, the serial number just goes on a blacklist category, it blocks it from doing anything, and it will disconnect it from the carrier itself," said Baker.
That iPhone or Android you thought was a deal could be blocked in a few days or a few months, and unfortunately, the victim rarely gets their money back.
"Not every time you think you got a good deal, you got a good deal," said Baker.
Another way scammers are ripping people off is by selling counterfeit or cloned phones. The devices are typically made overseas and look just like an official Apple iPhone.
It's tough to notice, but take a look at the smartphone and the hardware that runs it is actually from an Android.
"All the apps that's inside the phone looks official, the only thing that we saw differently is when we rebooted the phone an Android logo popped up,” Baker said.
The knock-off smartphones look like the real deal but definitely won't run like them. Basically, the operating systems in the fake phones are hacked, running bootlegged versions disguised as iPhone iOS.
"When they realize that they can't update their software, that's when they're gonna realize they just lost all their money."