Hey AT&T, I want my voice mail back!

By | November 19th, 2015

Aylin Gaughan’s attempt to upgrade to a new iPhone fails, but that’s not the worst of it. Her voice mails are now missing. Can AT&T get them back?

Question: I visited an AT&T store to upgrade to a new iPhone recently. A sales representative told me that they could transfer the data and to come back in a couple of hours. Two hours later, he asked me for another hour, and subsequently, for one more.

Four hours later, he told me that I had chosen a phone that only holds 16 MB and that my previous iPhone held 32. He suggested that I pick out a phone with a larger memory. I asked for my old phone back.

The next day, I started receiving birthday voice mails and noticed that several voice mails were no longer on the phone. I went back to the store and was told they would eventually “sync up.” That didn’t happen.

I spoke with the sales representative’s supervisor a couple of days later and he said that he would get back to me. He never did. I spent countless hours with AT&T, Apple, and Asurion, which insured my mobile device, with no luck.

I wrote AT&T several letters, and received a call from an AT&T representative, who asked me what I would like. He also told me that I am not getting my voice mails back. Their best offer is one month’s credit.

The voice mails that were deleted are part of litigation. I never authorized anyone to delete any information. One month credit seems really disproportionate to the frustrations that I am now left with. Can you help me? — Aylin Gaughan, New York

Answer: You tried to transfer your voice mails from a 32 MB phone to a 16 MB phone — and then back — and some of your voice mails were lost. Unfortunately, they’re gone for good. I checked with AT&T and they can’t be restored.

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This is a strange case with lots of teachable moments. First, make sure your new phone has at least the same amount of memory as your old phone, if not more. I just upgraded my AT&T iPhone to a 128 GB model. (I put everything on my phone.)

Second, you might consider a cloud-based phone number like Google Voice. You can access your messages from anywhere and they don’t have to be transferred from one device to another, since they live in the cloud. I also use Google Voice, and apart from the comedically inaccurate transcription service, I have no complaints.

You might have had more luck by sending a brief, polite email to one of these AT&T executive contacts. But something tells me even they wouldn’t have been able bring back those lost messages.

I’m truly sorry for your loss. There are any number of applications that allow you to record your voice mails and back them up for safekeeping. Since you’re in the middle of a lawsuit, you should definitely consider making copies of important voice mails.

I contacted AT&T on your behalf. It doubled its offer from one month’s credit to two, as long as you sign up for a two-year contract.

  • polexia_rogue


    similar issue here
    A dad had a voice mail of his dead daughter, just sitting there in his voice mail inbox.
    “he was offered a free trial of T-Mobile’s “voice-to-text” service when Rehema’s messages were deleted without warning. He says he called the company, asking them to recover the voicemails.”

    so what can be done? do all cell phone providers need to train their employees to add “and by the way you will loose all your voice mail!- is that ok?!” when ever it may or may not apply.

    older people (the father in my article was in his 50’s) seem to think that voicemail is an infinite box, or located on a company server. but do companies need to change to accommodate this small percentage of their customers?

  • Christopher Anderson

    If it was important, they would’ve sent a text

  • sirwired

    Google Voice PhoneMail is awesome. I switched to it when I couldn’t get voicemail notifications working a couple phones back, and switching to Google Voice was easier than trying to fix the problem.

    I have NO idea why Google offers the service at all, but I’m glad they do. (I don’t actually use Google Voice the way it was designed, where people call your Google number and it rings every different phone you own.)

  • backprop

    Well, I learned something today. People apparently still use voice mail!

  • Alan Gore

    Nobody should leave prized voicemails sitting around on a phone because they have no obvious way of retrievening them. Use software like this to pull off the messages to a computer:


  • LDVinVA

    People over 50 are a “small percentage”? Ever hear of the baby boom generation?

  • jamieleeeeee

    Was the phone backed up to iTunes on the owners computer prior to handing over the phone? It looks like the data is retrievable if the owner backed up their phone data prior to handing it over. http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Download-Voicemail-from-an-iPhone/

  • Mel65

    Huh. I guess I learned something today! I always I guess, assume that since I dial into a voicemail number, that my VMs were on a server or something “somewhere else.” I never realized they were physically on my phone. Now I feel silly!

  • DChamp56

    It constantly amazes me that people do not back up important things.
    I hope the LW knows now to back up in the future so it doesn’t happen again.

  • VoR61

    I believe that this OP has been misinformed.

    All carriers store voice mails on their server. This is in part, so they can be retrieved from any phone. And it appears from Chris’s answer that this OP did not have an app installed to back them up locally on the phone. Thus attributing the lost data to the difference in the phones’ internal storage (16 GB vs. 32GB) is inaccurate.

    Based upon the OP’s statement that only “some” were missing, the likelihood is that AT&Ts 90 day storage limit had been exceeded and those VMs were automatically purged (unless you re-save them one-by-one).

    As Chris said, it’s better to use an app for that purpose. I use BoldBeast Recorder for calls, live conversation, and VMs as it allows manual recording of calls (others are always automatic) and lets me specify the format. Plus it places a record button in the screen during calls.

    I conformed all of this today at our local AT&T store and also learned that the iPhone has a somewhat dangerous option when you upgrade. If you can’t recall the password, the automated voice prompt gives you the option the reset the mailbox, in which case you will lose ALL your voice mails. Yikes!

  • Tricia K

    I’m 54 and far more addicted to my iPhone than my 26 year old daughter. My husband’s business partner is 70. We all have iPhones and I promise you, we are not “a small percentage of customers.” i can assure you, as you age, your perspective will change dramatically.

  • KarlaKatz

    Although it’s too late for this situation, an archaic method to save important voicemails is to record them to one’s computer.

    I have some very precious messages from my now deceased mother, and I simply placed my phone near my laptop, started the “record” function on the laptop, and played the voicemails on the phone using the speaker. Because I held the phone at the laptop’s microphone, the messages are stored on my hard drive (and on a flash drive), and preserved. Of course, nowadays there are so many easier and more technologically advanced ways to do this, but this worked for me in 2006… and, the messages have transferred to many laptops since then.

  • judyserienagy

    In my experience, changing anything on an electronic toy is nearly guaranteed to mess up your life for months. If you have emails, voicemails … anything stored on a device … figure out a way to back the information up … and know how to retreive it … before you attempt to change anything at all.

  • LonnieC

    Haha. Welcome to my world (I’m 75).

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