How to Wipe Your Data Before Selling Your Phone
Our phones are repositories of so much personal and sensitive information, including text message logs, account names and numbers and passwords, email archives, and voice mail caches. You use your phone to access your online banking; to purchase items and transfer money; to send and receive sensitive emails; to reset passwords and authenticate logins; to converse with friends, relatives, coworkers but also with doctors, financial advisors, and lawyers.
In short, they're full of the data an identity theft or other unsavoury person would love to gain access to. So you might be understandably hesitant about passing on your phone to a recycler, concerned that some of your private information might fall into the wrong hands. And indeed, the tech recycling companies we link to here do not have any responsibility for protecting information potentially left on devices you send to them. So you should take care to wipe all data from your phones or tablet before slipping it into a freepost envelope and profiting.
Luckily, it's easy to purge your data from a device you're recycling. If you follow these steps, you should have no worries about selling your device on, safely earning cash for your unused gadget and keeping it out of a landfill.
Before You Wipe Your Phone
- Back up all your data: Avoid the dreaded "new phone, who dis?" (unless you're trying to leave some friend behind...) by backing up all the data stored on your phone, especially the contacts, and transferring it to your new model.
- Log out: of all sites and apps (including social media, banking apps, email) and wipe data from web browsers and apps, if possible.
- Revoke access and authorisation: for the phone on sites like Google and Facebook. For Facebook, go to Settings > Security and Login, to see a list of places you are currently logged in (hit log off for any on your phone) and a list of authorised devices, from which you should remove the phone. For Google, to go My Account > Device activity & security events to see a list of devices with active sessions and/or authorisation. You can remotely terminate sessions on your phone and revoke authorisation for the phone.
- Remove your SIM card: SIM cards store phone numbers, contacts and old text messages-all potentially sensitive information. They're generally located under the battery cover or in a specific SIM card slot: your phone's instruction manual will tell you where and if you don't have access to that, the manufacturer's website, or a simple Google search, can guide you. The SIM card looks like a small computer chip. Unless you're switching provider, you'll need it for your new phone. But if you are disposing of the SIM card, don't simply throw it into the bin. Your personal data could then be recoverable by anyone who stumbles across that card and slips it into a phone. You'll need to destroy it to prevent it from being used by anyone else. To properly do this, shred the SIM card with scissors, ensuring you're cutting through the bronze foil area, where all the data is stored. Throw the pieces in the bin.
- Remove your micro SD card: many smartphone and tablets also store data, including photos, videos, and music, on micro SD cards. They're generally located in specific micro SD hatches; an instruction manual should direct you if you can't find it. Again, if you wish to throw it away after you've backed up the data on it, you should cut it up first.
- Write down: your phone's serial number the identification provided by the manufacturer) and IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number, your phone's unique 15-digit identification code. You can find out your IMEI number by punching *06# into the phone's dial pad. You'll need this information if you later suspect data has been stolen from your ecycled phone.
Follow the following guides for wiping data from phones running Android or iOS software.
Note: If you have a different model of phone or an older version of one of the listed models, you should consult the instruction manual for your specific device. If you've lost the physical manual, the manufacturer's website should be another source for that information.
Wiping Android Phones and Tablets
Step 1: If you're running 5.0 Lollipop or later, you'll have to start by removing Factory Reset Protection. FRP was introduced to stop thieves from being able to steal your phone, wipe it, and sell or use it as if it were new. If you factory reset a phone that has FRP enabled, it will be locked and you'll need to enter the username and password for the Google account previously registered on the device to unlock it. Without those details, you can't gain access to the device. A recycler will not be able to purchase a phone in this condition and will generally send it back to you. So you'll need to deactivate FRP and then factory reset your Android phone to ensure it can be sold.
To disable FRP you'll need to disabled the screen lock and then remove your Google and Samsung accounts. To do, read the following instructions.
- Disable screen lock, Steps will vary for each phone. On a Samsung Galaxy: Go to Settings > Lock screen and security > Screen lock type > tap None. On a Google Pixel: Go to Settings > Personal > Security > Screen lock > tap None.
- Remove your Google Account from the device. On a Samsung Galaxy: Go to Settings > Cloud & accounts > Accounts > Google > More > Remove account. On a Google Pixel or LG G6: Settings > Accounts & sync > Google > More (or three vertical dots in the upper right) > tap Remove Account. If you have multiple accounts associated with the phone, remember to remove them all.
- If you have a Samsung Galaxy, you'll also need to remove your Samsung account from the phone. Go to Settings > Lock screen and security > Find My Mobile > enter your password > tap on your account > tap More > and hit Remove account.
Step 2: Unfortunately, even after FRP has been deactivated, you can't-or shouldn't-necessarily immediately proceed with the factory reset. If you deploy a factory reset at this point, it won't wipe your data, just the addresses to your data. A hacker or identity theft with recovery software could easily locate and recover your information. In fact, to demonstrate this weakness, security software developer Avast bought 20 used Android smartphones from Ebay and were able to recover from the devices 40,000 photos, 750 text messages and emails, and 250 contacts and ultimately to reconstruct the identities of four previous owners of the devices. They were even able to recover a completed loan application from one of the phones. Terrifying, right? Luckily, if you encrypt your Android phone before performing a factory reset, the data remaining on your phone will be scrambled even if it's not fully overwritten and anyone would need a special key to de-encrypt the phone and make sense of your data.
To encrypt your Android phone:
- Go to Settings > Security > scroll down and tap Encryption.
- This process might be slightly different on different Android phones. On a Samsung Galaxy, for instance, go to Settings > Lock screen & security > Protect encrypted data. Mobile > enter your password > tap on your account > tap More > and hit Remove account.
- he encryption process can take several hours so you should ensure your phone is fully charged or, ideally, plugged into a power source before beginning it. You don't want to the encryption process to fail halfway through because you handset ran out of juice.
- When you tap on Encryption or Protect encrypted data you should be given the option to encrypt your phone's micro SD card. You could do this but if you're selling the device on, it's better to remove it entirely and either to use it in another device or, after you've recovered all the data you want from it, to destroy it as described before.
Some later versions of Android correct this security vulnerability and are encrypted by default. This should be the case in phones that, when new, were running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, but won't be the case for phones that have been upgraded to Marshmallow. To see what software your Android phone is running, go to Settings > About device/phone > Software info.
Step 3: After FRP has been deactivated, your phone has been encrypted, and you've backed up all the data you want from the phone, you can proceed with the factory reset of the phone. On most Android phones you can do this by going to Settings > Backup & reset > Factory data reset > and tapping Reset device. Samsung Galaxy are a little different: you'll have to go to Settings > General Management > Reset > Factory data reset > and tap Reset device.
Wiping iPhones and iPads
Step 1: Before starting the reset, unpair your Apple Watch (if you have one) from your iPhone. To do this, keep your Apple Watch and iPhone close together, open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, go to My Watch, click the information symbol next to the watch and click the red Unpair Apple Watch on the bottom of the screen that appears.
Step 2: Turn off Find My iPhone. Go to Settings > [Your Name] (Apple ID) > iCloud > Find My iPhone and toggle off.
Step 3: Turn off and sign out of iCloud, iTunes, and the App Store.
- On iOS 10.3 or later you can sign out of all three at once: Go to Settings > [Your Name] (Apple ID) > scroll down and tap Sign Out > Enter your Apple ID password and tap Turn Off
On iOS 10.2 or earlier you have to sign out of iCloud and then iTunes and the App store separately. For iCloud, go to Settings > iCloud > Sign Out > tap Sign Out > then tap Delete from My [iPhone or iPad] and enter your Apple ID password. To sign out of iTunes and the App store go to Settings > iTunes & App Store > Apple ID > Sign Out.Note. If you wipe all the data from your phone without signing out of iCloud, it will delete all the data you've stored on iCloud too, which you don't want to do.
Step 4: It's at this point that you might want to sign out of all apps and accounts on your phone, such as those for social media.
Step 5: Go to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings. You need to enter your Apple ID or password or your device password. Enter and tap Erase [iPhone/iPad].
Step 6: Remove the device from your Apple account at appleid.apple.com.
Step 7: Make sure the activation lock is turned off. This is a feature on iOS devices that can be turned on remotely that prevents anyone from reactivating a reset phone. It's often turned on when a phone has been stolen, to prevent it from being reused. But if it's turned on, it will mean that the recycler will also be unable to reactivate the phone without your Apple ID and password. If they receive a device in this condition, sellers will ask you to remotely deactivate the activation lock (this can be done online through your iCloud account) and may reduce the offered price if you fail to this promptly.
How Do You Wipe Data from a Phone That Won't Turn On?
So your handset won't turn on and it's useless to you. You can still get some cash out of the device from recyclers, selling it as broken or faulty, but you'll still want to try to wipe all your data before turning that glorified paperweight into cash.
Android: If you can't perform a factory reset the normal way, you can boot the phone into recovery mode and do a hard reset that way. To do this, first make sure the device is shut down completely. You'll then need to press and hold a combination of keys to reboot the device in recovery mode. The exact keys will vary depending on the phone's manufacturer so you should consult an instruction manual or perform a simple Google search for the combination for your specific phone. But common combinations are Power and Home, Power and Volume Up, and Power and Volume Down. When the device turns on-it will show you an image of the Android robot on its back-you can release the buttons. Toggle up and down through the options with the volume keys to get to Recovery Mode, select this and then restart the phone by pressing the Power-you'll soon see a red caution triangle above the fallen Android. Hold down the Power button again while pressing Volume Up to access the recovery mode menu. Using the Volume keys toggle to Wipe data/factory reset and select using the Power button. You can then select Yes – Erase all Data, again using the volume and Power button, and your phone will restart, now with all your data wiped, or at least inaccessible by most means.
If you've managed to resurrect the phone for normal use via the reset, it might be worth encrypting it and performing another wipe, for extra peace of mind.
iOS: If your phone won't boot, Apple suggest you use recovery mode, where you should be able to perform a factory reset. To do this you'll need to turn off your device: if it's not responding, you can force shut it down by simultaneously pressing the power and home buttons for a few seconds. Connect your device to a laptop that has iTunes open, via a USB. When it's connected, press and hold the home button until the "Connect to iTunes" screen appears. When this appears you can release the home button. iTunes will tell you it's detected a device in recovery mode. If you click Restore or OK on your computer, iTunes will restore the operating system to the phone. This is effectively performing a factory reset. You'll be able to access all your data again, if you want to recover it, by logging into your Apple and iCloud account. You'll have to remember to log out of these and perform a new factory reset if you do this, however.
If your phone is properly bricked and won't reboot into recovery mode, you're likely to be able to wipe data from it and you may not even be able to sell it at all, or only for a small fee for its parts. The good news is that a thief will properly be unable to turn it on or extract anything from it either. You'll have decide if the £10 you get for a defunct phone is worth the (small) risk of your data being siphoned off, if it's ever resurrected by a very determined and technologically adept hacker.
Other Things to Do Before You Post Your Phone
- Check your phone's status on the CheckMEND database using its IMEI number. The CheckMEND database will tell you whether the phone has ever been reported lost or stolen or had an insurance claim made for it. This is particularly important if you bought your phone secondhand and are looking to recycle it. A red result on the CheckMEND database will mean that recyclers are generally unable to purchase you phone and in some cases that they have to report the device has been sent to them to insurers and the police.
- Ensure that service has been deactivated on the phone and there is no outstanding balance on the account.
- Remove the PIN, password, fingerprint, or even facial or retina recognition lock from your phone. All of these will stymie a recycler.
- Check if the liquid contact indicators (LCIs) on your phone. If they're activated-turned red-it means the phone has sustained water damage and, even if it still works, most buyers won't accept it. An instruction manual should tell you where the LCI on your phone is but common locations are near the battery. Your phone may have multiple LCIs: iPhones, for example, have LCIs in near the battery and in the dock port and headphone jack.
- Your phone doesn't have to be charged when it's sent in but it needs to have a functioning battery.
- Give your phone a quick physical clean, while it's powered off and unplugged. You'll want it to look in its best condition if you want to get the best price for it. While you won't be able to remove scratches, a quick wipe with a soft microfibre cleaning cloth, such as those used for eyeglasses and camera lens, can remove grime and fingerprints. You can slightly dampen the cloth if the dirt is particularly stubborn.
- Turn your phone off and package it securely.