AT&T claims I returned a shattered phone, but I didn’t

Sharon Pettibone’s AT&T phone stops working. Good thing it’s under warranty. Not-so-good: AT&T confuses it with another returned phone, charging her $749. Is this phone problem fixable?

Question: I recently cracked the screen on my AT&T phone. I filed an insurance claim and received a new phone. But the new phone completely quit working about two months later.

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I went into an AT&T store and a representative told me I could file a warranty claim, which I did. I sent the phone off and received another one.

Approximately three weeks later, I received the second phone back with a letter stating I did a warranty claim on a physically damaged phone (cracked screen) and they were charging me $749.

After talking with multiple AT&T representatives, I received pictures of the damaged device. It wasn’t even in the packaging in which I had sent it. Also, I asked if they could talk to the store associate to see that the phone was not working and not damaged when I brought it to him. They said no, because I left with the phone and it could have been damaged after that — even though he could confirm that it was in fact not working.

I don’t want to be charged for the second phone. Can you help me fix this? — Sharon Pettibone, Brunswick, Ga.

Answer: AT&T should have sent you a replacement phone that worked. When it broke down, it should have it fixed promptly. Instead, it appears AT&T confused your nonworking phone with someone else’s, and then refused to do even the most basic due diligence.

If that kind of “facts-don’t-matter” approach seems familiar, it should be. I just fixed another case with an AT&T-owned company, DirecTV, last week. Maybe this is a corporate policy. If it is, maybe the company’s executives should consider careers in politics. But I digress.

The terms of your warranty are clearly spelled out. As AT&T noted, “Some types of damage aren’t covered under warranty. When we receive your device, if AT&T determines that it is not eligible for a warranty replacement, you will be charged for the full value of the replacement device, which could exceed $450 depending on your model. Your old device will be returned to you and both devices will be yours to keep.”

But after examining your phone, the AT&T store employee advised you correctly to send in the phone and said you’d be covered. Your case reminds me of all those car rental damage cases I receive for this column’s companion feature, The Travel Troubleshooter. Often, they hinge on a single photo, often of a different car than the one you rented. This was the same thing, on a smaller scale.

A brief, polite email to one of AT&T’s executives — I list their names, numbers and email addresses on my consumer advocacy site — should have set the company straight. And that’s exactly what I suggested you do. After reviewing your appeal, AT&T refunded the $749.

3 thoughts on “AT&T claims I returned a shattered phone, but I didn’t

  1. I don’t know about ATT replacement phones, but when you get a replacement phone from T-Mobile under warranty, you get a phone that has been used and refurbished. A surprise to us when a clerk mentioned that. My wife went through two such replacement phones that never worked properly and, rather than go through that again, finally upgraded to an iPhone 7. Perhaps that is what they wanted her to do all along. Other than that glitch, we’ve been happy with T-Mobile service.

  2. I tend to avoid the warranty on these sorts of devices because the warranty cost often exceeds the value (though I buy midpriced $300+ phones, not the latest and greatest).

  3. I tend to avoid the warranty on these sorts of devices because the warranty cost often exceeds the value (though I buy midpriced $300+ phones, not the latest and greatest).

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