Is it worth buying an iPhone at auction?

iPhone5c_34L_AllColors_PRINTYou could pick up a bargain slightly older iPhone at auction right now. On the other hand, it could be an expensive silicon brick that you might not be able to get support for.
My attention was drawn earlier in the week to the fact that online auction house Pickles is holding an auction of lost property from Sydney Airport this week. I was curious, more really to see what kinds of things people actually lose in Sydney Airport.
The answer to that question? iPhones. Lots and lots of iPhones — and plenty of other things besides, ranging from bangles to unopened bottles of booze to… well, induction cookers.
Really. Somebody lost an induction cooker at Sydney Airport. I bet that’s one heck of a story to tell.
No, I have absolutely NO idea how you forget to bring your induction cooker on the plane with you. At a guess, a lot of this stuff is actually import luggage items that have never been claimed, but I’m totally spitballing there. Now back to the technology.
You can read the general IT listing here, and it’s headlined with a lot of iPhone devices.
It makes me curious about what the exact laws are regarding “lost” property, because it includes a couple of iPhone 5s units, and by very definition they can’t be more than twelve months old. My own research hasn’t uncovered anything concrete — any lawyers out there who’d care to comment?
There’s part of me that would like to think that if I did lose something, I might retain title to it for that kind of time, but obviously not. Pickles is a big operation, and this is a big auction, so presumably they’ve done their homework there.
Anyway, the sight of so many iPhones got me wondering, because they’re rarely cheap items, and bargains are always good.
Apple builds its stuff reasonably solidly, but there’s also an extensive repair ecosystem to fall back on, including that of Apple itself. Indeed, there’s more than a few iPhones on sale with cracked screens at somewhat inexpensive prices. There’s also a few going for what I’d call silly money given age and likely condition, but then you pay your money and take your chances with auction items.

Plenty of choice, but everything carries the same disclaimer.
Plenty of choice, but everything carries the same disclaimer.

Therein, however, lies the rub. There are a few boxed and sealed devices on sale, and it’s fair to guess that they’ll go for premium prices and have never been activated, but all the other lost iPhones are highly likely to be tied into iCloud accounts, and it’s feasible that more than a few of them would be locked down entirely.
Every single item within that Pickles auction carries the same disclaimer on it, specifically
PLEASE NOTE: All items in this sale are lost property. Pickles Auctions does not guarantee the condition or authenticity of any item in this sale. Items may be damaged, faulty, use overseas power supplies, have missing components or power cords, be IMEI/Carrier locked, have iCloud activation locked, be blocked, etc and are sold AS IS, WHERE IS. It is the buyer’s responsibility to satisfy himself or herself with the content of each lot. Inspection is available and recommended as we do not offer cancellation, refund or exchange.
That’s the kind of T&Cs I’ve seen on many auctions, and you’ve got to assume that Pickles knows its legal positioning around such sales. I’m in no way alleging any impropriety there.
What does interest me is what would happen if you got, say, a very cheap but cracked screen iPhone sold as “lost property” that you then took into Apple to get repaired. So I sent Apple a query — an odd, edge case to be sure — to find out what their policy would be.
The response I got was, essentially, that it would very much depend on the kind of paperwork that Pickles provides, but that they couldn’t comment beyond that.
It would appear that you’d have to take it on a case by case basis with an Apple store, which is where I can imagine things would get very interesting.
Understandably — and fairly enough — Apple doesn’t want to comment on cases where it’s not involved in selling hardware itself, and there’s a lot of variables at play that the local representatives won’t want to be on the record for — but between that and Pickles’ general disclaimer, you could very easily find yourself inbetween the proverbial iRock and a hard place, with a device that Pickles offers no guarantee on — and stated so upfront — and a company that may well regard a legally sold iPhone as still being a completely locked down device that they have no obligation to service.
Or in other words, a bargain iPhone could well end up being an expensive silicon brick. Caveat Emptor, indeed.

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