They were sold as new but definitely were not. How two consumers learned they didn't get what they paid for, and what the wireless industry had to say about the mistakes.
Gina Lala’s new phone from an independent Verizon store in Skokie came with a few features she wanted, and at least one she didn’t: graphic pictures of naked men. Lots of them.
"I go to the photo gallery and there are pictures of people I don't know, that have obviously been on the phone, very disturbing pictures, very offensive," Gina told NBC Chicago. "I got very upset. I have young kids and they go through my phone. They play with my phone!"
The manager of the independently-owned store in Skokie took care of her situation, she says, and made her a promise: "Assured me this was a mistake and it would never happen again. And sure enough, it happened again - with my mom."
One year later, same store- it happened again. This time it did not have the pornography. The “new” phone was purchased by Lala’s mom, Nancy, an iPhone she says she was excited to bring home.
"And I looked at the box, and on the back of the box there was a little sticky note that said this phone had been slammed on a desk and there's a nick on the back of it," Nancy said. She showed NBC5 the yellow sticky-note from the box:
While most of the phones sold as new are, indeed, new gadgets, Target 5 found this is a problem that continues to plague consumers around the world. Customers sound off about the practice online; in China, a lawsuit was filed by angry iPhone users who allege they were sold refurbished phones with dwindling warranties.
The manager of the store in Skokie told Target 5 he remembers the Lala’s two incidents, and admits mistakes happen. Verizon Corporate issued this statement in response to NBC Chicago’s inquiry:
“We require full disclosure that a device has been previously used. Equipment sales are the agent's independent business, however. To the extent full disclosure was not provided, we would certainly take corrective action. We appreciate the issue being brought to our attention and we are committed to ensuring adherence with our policies. We will address any customer concerns directly. It is our goal to ensure customer satisfaction.”
After their experience, the Lalas question if this is a problem experienced more at independently-owned stores, versus corporate branches. The CTIA, a group that represents the wireless industry, did not respond to our repeated calls for comment on the questions surrounding this issue. But the following wireless companies did respond to consumer complaints about sales of refurbished phones represented as new.
Here’s what a few other providers said about their policies.
“It is Cricket’s policy not to sell refurbished phones as new to customers.” The company says it takes this policy seriously, and in recent months revoked the sales privileges of six stores that were selling refurbished phones as new.
“With one of the broadest portfolios of Smartphones in the industry, AT&T is proud to offer great devices at a variety of price points. One way we do this is by offering customers the opportunity to purchase refurbished phones at lower costs than new ones. Our refurbished phones are clearly marked as such at point of sale. They are phones that have been returned to the store within 30 days of purchase. The software on all refurbished phones has updated and reset so as to remove any information about the previous owner.”
“In today’s marketplace, cellphones are available from a variety of channels. Online, small phone stores, and even at gas stations. Refurbished (sometimes called recertified or “previously owned”) phones serve as replacements for the majority of phone carriers when your phone is damaged. They are also a good value for people buying phones without contracts or even for use with prepaid services.
TigerDirect sells new, as well as refurbished phones – including those with and without service. All products on our website and in our retail stores clearly show the product condition to ensure customers are clear on what they are purchasing. –Lonny Paul, VP of Marketing
Refurbished phones are always marked as such – and generic packaging (plain white or brown box) is a great indicator. (New phones tend to come in branded packaging.) At smaller retailers and gas stations, many of the inexpensive phones available are refurbished as well – even though they may be in a very attractive sealed plastic package. “
"Realizing that I paid for a new phone and did not get a new phone, that it was like you were selling me a used product and it was expensive!" said Nancy.
Like mother, like daughter, Lala echoed the sentiments.
"I'm paying full price for a brand new phone and I get a refurbished phone -- it's kinda like I was scammed!"