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Trading in your cellphone? Here's what you need to know

Simple steps can protect you from having to pay full price for a new phone that was supposed to be discounted because of your trade-in.

TEXAS, USA — I got new cellphones for several members of my family, and we were happy with them for months! Right up until… I got a text. 

It was from my beloved cellphone carrier. They told me the expensive new phones, that I'm only required to pay several dollars for each month, were going to start costing me a lot more than that because, “We didn't receive the trade-in phone(s) needed to keep the promo price." 

Wait. I did trade-in those phones! 

Of course, they wouldn't let me do it the easy way, where I would hand the phones to a human at the store and they would give me a receipt. No... I had to mail in the old models. 

And I did. But that was months ago. Why would I still have a record of that? 

Save those receipts!

Well, aside from it being a sound practice to keep shipping receipts for these kinds of things, you can find entire threads online with different cell service providers where consumers are complaining of getting caught in this same conundrum. 

So, keep your confirmation receipt if you trade in a phone!

I kept mine, which includes a tracking number. And sure enough… just as it showed when I checked days after I sent the phones, it still spells out the date and time they were delivered to the cell company’s address — and even which gate they went through when they were returned! 

In addition to receipts...

Anticipating that there could be a problem, I also made sure to look up the weights of my phones and verified when I sent them that the weight was correct on the shipping label. 

Admittedly, I could’ve put something else that weighed that much into that package I sent, so I also videotaped the appearance of the phones and the process of putting them into the box provided by the mobile phone company and sealing it. And the video I have is time stamped right before the time listed on the shipping receipt from the shipping company. 

Time for a chat

Chatting online with my cell carrier, I told them I'd be happy to share with them that video and the shipping confirmation. They simply asked for the tracking number on my receipt. I also shared some experience because I have been inside these trade-in processing facilities. I took you along last year for that

From that visit, I learned that sometimes people really do send boxes filled with bricks instead of phones to try to game the system (it doesn’t work). 

I also learned that those warehouses have cameras everywhere and they scan every phone that enters. 

So, in the chat, I suggested that my provider also just check their own images of my package arriving and being processed at their facility. 

I also told them I could start filing a consumer complaint if they were to try to charge me full price for my new phones after I traded in old phones, because they would no longer be keeping their end of the bargain to which we agreed. 

Within minutes, I had a new message from them in our chat: "We have checked all the previous notes in your account and found that all of your 3 devices have been returned successfully". 

And now I have that in writing. Always get it in writing if you experience something similar! Don't call them if there is a discrepancy. Chat with them on their site. 

When it's done, copy the chat and email it to yourself in case they don't send you the transcript. And you should always request the transcript when you are in the chat.

If you need extra help resolving this issue

If you do all this with your trade-in phone and it doesn't get resolved, here are some options with entities that may compel the carrier to formally respond to them: 

  1. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) told me, “We do encourage consumers to reach out to the FTC about potentially harmful business practices – they can file a report” by clicking here

  2. You can also file a complaint through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) through various channels listed here under ‘File a complaint’. The FCC tells me, “Consumers are welcome to file complaints with the FCC. In some cases, we serve those complaints on companies and work to hopefully support some resolution to the matters. In the past, we have received some phone trade-in complaints and served those.” Here is more information on their consumer complaint process.

  3. You can also file a complaint through the Texas Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection by clicking here.

  4. Finally, you can file a complaint against the carrier here through the Better Business Bureau.


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