What to Look for When Buying a Used Mac

Buy a working, used Mac and avoid scams!

Macs are expensive, especially if you need more storage, RAM, and additional features, the kind of features that come with inherently more expensive Macs. Just because you enjoy using Macs, doesn't necessarily mean you should have to pay full price for a Mac.

After all, used Macs are always for sale on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, at AASPs (Apple Authorized Service Provider/resellers), and at ARSs (Apple Retail Stores). So, you don't have to buy a brand-new Mac at full price, if you know how to avoid scams, get a good Mac that works well, and isn't to be good to be true or wildly overpriced.

In this guide, I tell you how to buy a used Mac that really works and avoid scams. Of course, if you need help buying a new Mac, check out our guide on How to Choose the Best Mac for You.

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Keep an Eye Out For Scams

When buying a used Mac, it is extremely important to keep an eye out for scams and do your best to avoid them. This is especially true when buying from Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and other ecommerce companies that have Marketplaces.

While some companies, like eBay, have some protections for their customers, in most cases buying and selling is a bit of a free for all. This means, people can steal products and sell them or sell non-working products with very few consequences.

Often, after stealing a device, they will use a general picture of that same product that makes buyers think it works, when the buyer picks up the product and takes it home, the seller has blocked the buyer. The buyer is then out the money, defeating the purpose of trying to save money by buying a used Mac.

So, here are a few tips on how to avoid scams when buying Macs, which can also apply to other Apple devices:

How to avoid scams:

  1. Buy from a reliable reseller- Whether you buy your used Mac from an ARS (Apple Retail Store) or an AASP (Apple Authorized Service Provider/reseller), try to buy from somewhere that protects its buyers from scams. Generally, this means the products come with a return policy, so that if there is a major issue, the product may be able to be returned. Keep in mind, however, that return policies for used products are often different than they are for new products.
  2. Avoid Marketplaces- While I am sure some people score great deals on Macs on Facebook Marketplace, I've also seen a lot of scams on there. In my opinion, it is better to pay a little bit more for the trust of a company than risk wasting your money on a scam.
  3. Make sure the device is unlocked- Before paying, make sure the device is not stolen and has been signed out of iCloud and Find My. If it is still connected to Find My, make the seller sign out for you using the steps found on applesupport.com. Having a device locked because of Find My usually means it's stolen, though some sellers simply forget to take the steps necessary before selling and aren't trying to scam buyers. If the device is signed in to iCloud and Find My, you may never be able to properly use it. In this case, you've bought a brick.
  4. Make sure the Mac turns on- Don't buy a device that you can't turn on. Always check that it turns on first and takes you to set up. If you don't go straight to set up, then the seller didn't take the necessary steps to sign themselves out, etc. This could end you up in trouble later.
  5. Make sure pictures are candid- Essentially, make sure that the pictures are the real thing, not stock images, or ones stolen online. You can do this by asking for a video of the device turning on, etc. Of course, do so tactfully. Most sellers understand the scams out there and will not be offended by an extra picture or video.
Check the Year and Model

Don't make the mistake of seeing "$150 Macbook Pro in great condition" for sale and thinking you scored a deal. See how old that particular model of Macbook Pro is because it's most likely several years old.

While it's not always important to have the most recent model, and you may find it works great for you, it is really important that you know if that product is vintage or obsolete, meaning, can it still receive service at an ARS or AASP? It would be extremely frustrating to pay $150 for a ten-year-old Mac that can't receive service, has slow performance, and struggles to do basic tasks. In that case, they scored a deal, not you.

And, trust me, I've seen this online a lot! If aren't sure what an obsolete Mac is, check out our guide What Does it Mean if your Mac is Obsolete?

How to avoid buying an obsolete Mac:

  1. Check the year- Check the year with the seller. Make sure it follows the parameters below.
  2. Don't buy a Mac more than 3 years old- I know that sounds extreme, but if you want to get at least 3-5 years use out of your Mac, you don't want to buy one more than 3 years old. At three years old, a used Mac can still receive service at an ARS or AASP for another 2-5 years. This means you don't have to worry about a broken Mac that can't be fixed.
  3. Once you see the Mac in person, look at the bottom of the Mac, or check the year and model in the "About This Mac" section.
Compare Pricing

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Sellers aren't going to sell a product for less than it's worth. In fact, they usually sell it for more than it's worth. To avoid buying a Mac that was either too good to be true or overpriced, start by comparing the pricing of the used Mac to other Macs of that same year and model online, at an ARS, and at an AASP. You may even find a better deal while you're at it.

Essentially, the goal is to get a used Mac that works, isn't a scam, and that isn't overpriced, and price has a lot to do with that.

How to get the Mac that's just right:

  1. Check with an ARS or AASP- Both ARSs and AASPs sell used products, see what their prices are too. Those prices might provide a good baseline. How much does that product usually cost and why?
  2. Compare prices with that same reseller- Does that seller have multiple of the same model? Are there other sellers on that marketplace with much lower prices or much higher prices? Generally, prices are about the same across the board, so if it's too good to be true, avoid it.
  3. Don't assume it's a good deal- Just because it's within your budget, don't assume it's a good deal. It may be overpriced, so compare the price to other resellers or Marketplaces.

So, being both wildly overpriced and/or wildly underpriced are usually bad signs. Often, sellers are trying to get the most money they can from each sale, especially on Marketplace. So, find a product that is somewhere within that baseline, you can avoid overpaying and scams this way.

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