Getting rid of an old appliance can be environmentally friendly and even lucrative, and worth hundreds of dollars. But you could lose control of your data if you don’t clean up your accounts and information from the phone. Think about everything your phone is connected to: your banking information, your health data, all your contacts and more.
Failing to properly reset a phone can also lead to activation issues for the new owner.
And you need to ensure a smooth transition to your next phone so you don’t miss precious photos or access important security codes.
When it comes to parting with an old smartphone, you have many options. Apple, Samsung, mobile carriers, retailers and third-party resellers are happy to take back old phones. You can also sell them directly to someone or pass them on to a relative.
No matter where your phone is headed, you need to follow these three steps.
#1 – Back up your old phone
The first step is to save the information about the phone you are removing. iPhone owners have two options for backing up their data: iCloud or your computer. For most people, iCloud is the easiest option.
Connect your phone to Wi-Fi. Under Settings, tap your name. Then tap iCloud > iCloud Backup > Back Up Now. If your iPhone is paired with an Apple Watch, unpair it. This automatically backs up your Apple Watch and the data can be restored when you pair it with a new iPhone.
If you don’t have enough iCloud storage to back up your iPhone, you can now use iOS 15 (which works on models up to iPhone 6S) to get some free temporary storage. Just follow Apple’s specific instructions to access it. You then have 21 days to transfer this backup to a new device.
To back up your phone’s data to your Mac, plug it in and then open a window on the desktop (what Apple calls the Finder). Your iPhone icon should appear in the left sidebar of this window. When you click on it, you get a menu of options, including managing backups. (Here are the instructions to backup iPhone to Windows PC using iTunes.)
Samsung smartphone owners have several options for backing up and transferring data, including Google, Samsung’s Smart Switch, and cloud services such as Samsung Cloud. For Samsung Cloud, go to Settings and tap your name at the top of the screen. Tap Samsung Cloud, choose the data you want to save, then tap Back up data at the bottom of the screen.
Once you get your new phone, open Settings and tap your name at the top of the screen. Then tap Samsung Cloud > Restore Data and find the desired device backup. Tap Restore > Install.
#2 – Log out of your accounts
Don’t press the Clear button yet!
If you use apps for two-factor authentication, you need to set them up on the new phone or you risk losing access to their features. This could be your work security app, a Google or Facebook app, or an authenticator app that provides security codes for other accounts.
Even tech pros sometimes forget to do this. Jon Callas, director of technology projects at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights group, didn’t transfer his Microsoft Authenticator account details when he got rid of an old phone . He says he had to take a boring route, via his laptop, to disable verification on his old phone and validate his new one.
“People like me will find out that you have to do it at an inopportune time,” Callas said.
Follow the instructions of the corresponding authenticator app to remove it from your device. After transferring the data to your new phone, open the authenticator app on both devices to make sure the codes are going to the right place.
For major apps like Google and Facebook, which often have their own two-factor authentication, sign in on the new device before signing out on the old. Make sure to sign out of other apps too, if only because it’s annoying to see in their settings that you’re signed in to devices you no longer own.
With the apps squared off, it’s time to sign out of your iCloud account on iPhones or your Google account on Android phones.
For iPhones running iOS 10.3 and later, you can sign out of everything at once: open Settings and tap your name, then scroll down, tap Sign Out, enter your Apple ID password, and tap Disable . This removes the old phone from your Find My devices list and ensures that Apple ID two-factor authentication codes will no longer show up on that device.
For Samsung devices, sign out of your accounts on the device to disable activation locks and factory reset protections. Go to Settings > Accounts & backup > Accounts, then find your account name. Then tap Delete Account.
#3 – Erase your phone
Now you can finally wipe the slate clean.
On your iPhone, go to Settings > General > Transfer or Reset iPhone > Erase All Content and Settings. Hit Continue, follow the prompts and confirm you’re ready to take that big step, then wait for those last bits of data to disappear. Remove your SIM card and this device is ready to go.
Verify that your iPhone removal was successful by checking your Apple ID device list. (He shouldn’t be there anymore.)
Erasing an Android phone depends on the manufacturer. For the most part, you can go to Settings and tap Factory Reset from there. Just make sure you know your Google login information to avoid being locked out of your photos, calendars, and everything else when you try to sign in on your new device.
For Samsung, go to Settings and tap General management > Reset > Factory data reset. Tap Reset at the bottom of the screen, then follow the instructions. If your phone has an expandable SD memory card, remember to remove it and also remove the SIM card.
Although some companies that buy your old phone take extra steps to make sure it doesn’t contain any personal information, you shouldn’t rely on them. It’s pretty easy to do all of this yourself.