Cellphone processing

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Processing Donated Cell Phones for the FreeGeek Thrift Store


Anna Knowlson

Last time Updated: Jan 10, 2013


How I process donated cell phones – making them ready to sell in the thrift store. Please add helpful suggestions or useful information.

Essentially: match an adaptor to the phone, charge the phone to see if the battery works properly, then delete all personal information. If this is successful, add a green dot and the FreeGeek sticker.

In detail:

1. Collect phones from wherever they are being gathered -- usually with the incoming donations.

2. Check the phones over to see if they have obvious defects such as a cracked screen or lack of battery cover or water damage or dents. Phones in poor physical condition are probably not useful and not worth processing for the thrift store. A defective looking phone might have a good battery that might be worth charging up and using in another phone. Or not.

3. Find the matching charger for each phone – there may be an extra one or a generic one among the extras in the bin in the Cave.

4. Take the back off the phone and check to see if the battery shape is flat or bulgy. Flat is good. Bulgy means there is a chemical reaction going on that makes the battery no good or even dangerous. Bad batteries go to a box in the warehouse recycling area.

5. Look for a micro-SD card and remove it.

6. Look for a SIM card if there is one. Most phones have a single carrier such as Fido, Bell, Telus, or Rogers. Phones without SIM cards are a CDMA type and probably cannot be re-activated because of commercial constraints of carriers such as Telus, who would rather have you buy a new phone and plan. Some GSM type phones are unlocked, and have a choice in the sub-menu of many carriers and interchangeable SIM cards for different carriers. Some have more than one SIM card. Those multi-carrier phones are often called “World Phones” or something similar. Some phones require an installed SIM card of the right carrier type in order to delete information from the phone. The individual SIM card doesn't have to match the individual phone, but it usually has to be from the correct carrier even if the phone tells you that it doesn't match exactly. That's okay – it gets your foot in the door so to speak. Remember to remove the SIM card when you have finished erasing the information.

7. Charge the phone to see if it works at all. If it charges up, how well does it charge? 100% ? 50%? Does it get excessively warm when charging? Does it hold a charge for a functional amount of time? If it seems to charge up usefully and safely, and the operating system seems to work, then you can proceed to delete the information on it. If the battery seems to have charged fully but the operating system is not functional, the battery might be useful for another cell phone of the same model that needs a battery replacement. Mark good batteries with a green dot. Recycle others.

8. Delete information from the micro-SD card if there is one. Best to use a wiping script on a specialized computer – you can reformat Micro-SD cards via an adaptor and the computer.

9. Use the SIM if necessary to delete information from the phone.

10. If the phone has no SIM card slot, you can delete the information as it is. Sometimes information in stored in the phone, and sometimes in the SIM card, and sometimes in both places. With some phones the location of info is clear, with other phones it is not clear. Furthermore, not all SIM cards of the same carrier work in the same way.

11. Find the phone number of the phone. Sometimes in the menu this will be in “contacts”, sometimes in “tools/phone information”, or something like that. Very often, the security code number is the last for digits of the phone number. This is useful for doing global deletes and erasures of information.

12. If the security code number is not the last four digits of the phone number, then try 1111, 11111, 1234, 12345, 0000, or 00000. The Razor V3 has a universal code of "60", unless owner put in something else. If none of those work as a code for the phone, you may want to stop there. Deleting information bit by bit is too tedious, and the lack of a security code may be a problem for the next person using the phone.

13. Delete private information – some information may be found in the SIM card, in a Micro SD card, or in the phone memory. Sometimes the factory re-set button will delete all private info such as contacts and photos, but double check to see if that has actually happened. Sometimes it is necessary to put a SIM card of the correct carrier into the phone to get it to co-operate, whether there is info on the SIM card or not. In fact, an erased SIM card is good for this. The phone may say something like, “unregistered SIM”, but that is okay for the moment. The point is to use a SIM card as a tool to find the menu, and use the menu to find the telephone number, the code for the phone, and then delete private information from the phone that way. Once the information is deleted, remove the SIM card. Ideally one might use a wiping script to erase the information from the phone, using a connected computer, but that procedure is not known to us at this time.

Systematically delete or double check on deletion of:

a. Addresses

b. Contacts

c. Pictures

d. Notes and memos

e. Calendar entries

f. Voice recordings

g. Videos

h. Text messages

i. Emails

j. Name of previous owner and personal screen savers

k. Call and message logs

l. Any other personal information you can find

m. double check that the info is actually gone – sometimes it does not delete as it says it has. If it will not delete then it cannot be re-used. Recycle the phone instead.

14. If there is no security code, and the information cannot be deleted without a code, then the phone is not good for the thrift store. If the battery is a good one, take it out and put a green dot on it to show that it has charged up usefully. It might be used in another phone of the same kind. Draw an X over both sides of the un-useful phone body with the black felt marker and then recycle it in the warehouse.

15. Use a small piece of "masking tape" to add info to the back of the phone: the security code, whether or not the phone was “wiped”, the battery charged, name of carrier if it isn't obvious from a logo. These notes will help you keep track of where you have gotten to in processing each phone, so that you do not get confused by repetitive details from phone to phone. The notes are also useful to the next person who may buy the phone in the thrift store.

16. If the phone has been successfully processed: battery charged, all info wiped, phone parts in good working order, micro-SD and SIM cards removed – then put a green dot sticker on the back and a FreeGeek sticker. If the carrier and phone model # are not marked on the phone body then add a sticker with the carrier name and model # written on it, for convenience. Put these stickers in an out-of-the-way spot on the back so that they do not interfere with anything -- such as viewing the screen, or taking the battery cover off, or inserting the charger or a micro-SD card. It is helpful to keep the matching charger attached to the cell phone, perhaps wrapped with an elastic band, so that they can be used together. If the cell phone has arrived without a charger, it is possible to find one from chargers that have been donated or collected from other non-functioning cell phones.

17. Use the record chart to write down details of the phone. It is useful to know what kinds of phones are coming through, which batteries they use, and other details. A chart helps to organize the work so that one may go forward with it rather than redoing some processing by accident. A record helps give a sense of accomplishment even when so many phones look the same, and so many do not make it to the Thrift Store. You might want to write down the details as you proceed, or you may want to wait until you are finished with a certain phone. Keep a record even if the phone turns out to be not suitable for the thrift store. Details to write down are in eight columns headed as follows: Processing Date -- Brand and Model Number – Battery Charged? and Model # – Phone # and Security Code – Info Erased or Not – SIM Required? -- Carrier Name – Send to Store Yes/No.

18. Processed phones that have passed the function tests and have private information totally erased go to the FreeGeek Thrift Store.