Q. I'm starting to accumulate a drawer of old cell phones. Is there a way I can make money off these things?
A. The wireless telephone companies generally don't have buy-back policies, so it's unlikely you'll be able to take your used cellular phone back to where you got it. If you are lucky they may have some sort of trade-in value.
The situation has resulted in used cell phones gathering dust in homes and offices across the nation. There are estimates that a half billion used cell phones are sitting on shelves or in landfills in the U.S., according to Recycle My Cell Phone, a group that advocates minimizing cell phone waste through recycling. Each year another 130 million are retired.
Your money-making options are limited and fall into two categories. The first involves selling your telephone to a store or on the Internet. The second involves taking a tax deduction for donations to a charity.
If you go the sales route you can choose between selling it to a company that will refurbish and resell the handset or selling it yourself. TCA Wireless, which has five stores on O'ahu, will buy used cell phones.
You also can try Web sites such as www.cellfor cash.com, www.ripmo bile.com and eztradein.com. At ripmobile.com the cash comes back to you in the form of gift certificates that can be used at retailers.
The sites will give you an estimated value for your phone along with shipping advice and other information you'll need. For example, a Samsung SCH-A630 telephone was quoted yesterday at $18 on cellforcash .com. The newer Motorola RAZR V3 had a price quote of $53.
You probably can fetch more for your old phone by placing it on an online marketplace such as eBay. Yesterday on eBay the prices listed for both telephones above ran about three times what cellfor cash.com offered.
Roger Wilkerson, a Honolulu resident who offers wireless telephone and service plan advice through his www.cell phonedoctor.com site, said about a fifth of his inquiries involve what people should do with their old telephones. He said selling the telephones isn't worth it compared to what's received in return.
"The time, effort and energy it takes to sell your cell phone is better spent donating it to some charity," Wilkerson said. "The phone has already paid for itself, so why not donate it and help someone else out."
Nonetheless, there is a market for used cell phones. Wilkerson said some of the buyers are cell phone users who have owned a similar model and have somehow damaged it. They can extract the SIM or data card with their information out of the damaged telephone and install it in a used phone bought off the Internet, he said.
There are hazards to selling online, especially if you haven't erased sensitive information, including that found in text messages. Trust Digital of McLean, Va., recently bought 10 used cell phones on eBay and was able to see prior e-mails on the telephones, including bank and tax information, computer passwords and evidence of a married man's affair.
The company said users had failed to perform the reset procedures required to delete data.
Make sure the memory is wiped clean whether you are selling or donating, Wilkerson said. He recommends removing the SIM or data card.
"That's one of the biggest mistakes that people make."
Wirelessrecycling.com, which is maintained by ReCellular Inc., the largest recycler and reseller of mobile phones, has a page on its Web site that helps people erase personal information before they sell or donate.
The site also allows people to type in ZIP codes to find where they can drop off donations to nonprofit groups, including the Afterschool Alliance and March of Dimes.
Special Olympics Hawaii, Sierra Club Hawaii and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence also have drop-off boxes locally. Other charities that accept old phones can be found on the Internet.
Do you have a question about personal finance, taxes or other money matters? Reach Akamai Money columnist Greg Wiles at 525-8088 or firstname.lastname@example.org