Refurbished Phone Scams: What to Watch out for When Buying a Used Device

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Almost every Telecom company today sells refurbished phones. When you upgrade, and you trade in your old phone for a new phone, they can refurbish your old phone and turn around and sell it.

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In theory this sounds great. You can upgrade your phone or just make a change and buy a used device instead of something brand new. You can purchase a phone for slightly less than retail value depending on the condition in which it was exchanged, and everybody wins.

Or do they?

Refurbished phone scams happen all the time. There are a lot of things you need to watch out for when buying a used device.

What are refurbished phone scams?

Refurbished phone scams are any method used to get as much money out of you is the consumer is possible and they can take many forms.

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  • Companies can sell you a refurbished phone for more than it’s worth, failing to disclose the condition in which the phone actually is.
  • Companies can trick you by selling you a broken device that doesn’t even work.
  • Companies can steal phones outright and sell them off quickly at what you think is a great and unexplainably cheap deal just so they can get them off their hands before they get blacklisted and locked.
  • Companies can send refurbished phones as new phones. You order a new phone and then take it in to get minor repairs a few weeks later only to be told by the person doing the repairs that this is a refurbished device for which you paid top dollar.
  • Companies can trick you when you have a new device that you send in for a replacement or repair by sending back a refurbished trickster in its place.
  • Companies can give you great deals on used phones but when you try to use them with the company that sold them to you, you find out they are locked and won’t work without service.

Most common scams

Any type of fraud you can think of has probably happened at some point or another. The majority of common refurbished phone scams and customer complaints about completely fake devices or being sold an outdated flip phone when a brand new iPhone was ordered take place on third-party sites usually with refurbished phones mailed from around the world.

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Customers have lots of issues with sites like eBay where the policies are not as friendly to both parties involved in the transactions.

But common refurbished phone scams take place with popular leaders among the Telecom industry all the same. The only difference is instead of being sold a completely fake phone or being ripped off by buying something in terrible condition, the most common scams and complaints have to do with being sold refurbished phones that just don’t work or being sold new phones that are actually refurbished. 

Stolen phones

One refurbished phone scam to look out for are situations where the phones are actually stolen. This is more likely to happen if you purchase from a third-party like EBay. In these cases of refurbished phone scams, people have stolen phones that they sell quickly and in between the time that you purchased the phone and the report of the stolen phone is recognized, that sale is made. The results?

A few days after you purchase your refurbished phone it no longer works, you get locked out, and when you bring it to a help center, they let you know that you are in possession of stolen goods.

Refurbished phones sold as new

One of the most common refurbished phone scams is when refurbished phones are sold as new phones. You look online or going to a store and operate under the auspices that you are buying a brand new phone for what seems like a good deal, maybe a few hundred dollars less than market price. But when you go to get repairs on the phone or you examine it closer at home, you realize it is a refurbished phone. Situations like these happen all the time. One Verizon customer explained, 

“My iPhone 7 that I purchased as new (or so I thought) from a Verizon retailer, was just confirmed by Apple to have been refurbished…This is beyond frustrating because now I am stuck with a phone that gets no service and both Verizon and Apple refuse to do anything about it. Verizon is only concerned with making money and does not care about the quality of the products they sell to their customers. I will be considering other cell providers and will never consider buying a product from a Verizon store. I urge everyone to buy directly from the retailer because you simply cannot trust what Verizon is selling you. And be warned, if you buy a refurbished phone, Apple will not extend their complementary repair services to you.”

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T-Mobile has actually been sued by the state of New York for regularly selling refurbished phones as new. Customers have complained through online mediums regularly about this type of refurbished phone scam. One customer noted:

“I’m dealing with the exact same issue with a new Galaxy S10+….defective and was sent a ‘replacement’, which is refurbished. It doesn’t work either, so I’m now calling from my laptop because I have a phone that won’t make or receive calls and all they offer is yet, another ‘replacement.’”

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Sprint’s name has been dragged through the phone-scam-mud alongside AT&T. One AT&T customer explained,

“I bought 2 iPhones at an ATT booth at Sam’s Club. I now find out they were refurbished iPhones that I paid for. What gives ATT the right to sell used goods to consumers??”

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One FairShake customer noted,

“I found out my phone was a refurbished instead of new. I’m paying the full $1400 and noticed, I have wear on the front phone after replacing old screen protector and camera issues. The person who upgraded my phone, told me it was brand new. Person on phone said they can do that, because it’s a refurbished. If true, why does my phone have said problems? I was told they used to give new phones, but people took advantage of it (I don’t understand that) It’s wrong to tell customers false information, as a refurbished item is just that…not new.”

Refurbished replacements for new phones

FairShake customers have complained about these issues, and similar cases where they return a new phone because of a defect or issue, and the “new” replacement is actually a refurbished phone. One customer noted,

“Mechanical defect on brand new phone. Refurbished phone sent to me. Also defective. I don’t receive text messages. Texts sent to me go to someone else. Calls constantly dropped, kicked out of applications. Phone shuts off without reason. I have spent countless hours on the phone and through my Verizon chat application with no resolutions ever. Wasted hours upon hours and lost customers and thousands of dollars due to Verizon service. Customer work lost as a result of mechanical failure on the note 10 +5g phone. I paid 1,399 for a brand new defective device and was sent a refurbished phone that was also defective. I have never missed a payment and all calls and chats are recorded by Verizon.”

What to do if you’ve been victimized by a refurbished phone scam

If you purchased from a third-party, or directly from your cell phone provider, start by returning it and getting a full refund or filing a fraud claim.

Consumer arbitration is an official legal process that can get the company to the table.

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Report fraud

  • You can report fraud to the FTC or Federal Trade Commission.
  • You can also file a report with the FCC or Federal Communications Commission. 
  • If it was a local sale and the phone was reported stolen, you can meet at a police station where you will have to report the issue and you can have the seller meet you there so that the evidence and any documentation can be transferred at that time.

Use Consumer Arbitration

If the company won’t give you a refund or replacement, then consider consumer arbitration as a way to get the compensation you deserve. We show you how. 




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