Why the hell not? Apple insists on returning iPhone to thief, not owner; AT&T concurs

Sometimes it’s hard to read posts on Consumerist because they’re so infuriating and unjust- it’s like watching a movie where someone is falsely accused of something like Double Jeopardy or The Fugitive.

Enter Alisa and her Christmas anti-Miracle. Alisa was on a subway in Brooklyn two weeks ago when a helpful train thief availed her of some of her personal items, including her iPhone. As is often the case when you live in Brooklyn, Alisa would have had to go to a precinct over an hour away. After traveling an hour in the biting cold via the same subways on which she’d just been robbed, she’d have to go through giant books of perp pics even though she didn’t see the guy. Alisa says she had a final the next day anyway, so she didn’t.

Alisa wrote off the iPhone and bought a Blackberry (which sucks for her, too, poor Alisa) and I suppose got to enjoying her Christmas despite the whole robbery/loss of awesome gadget thing. But yesterday, Alisa’s hopes for recovering her phone were raised briefly, when she got an e-mail that indicated someone, somewhere was getting her phone replaced:

Anyways, fast forward to yesterday when I get a email from Apple that someone had filed a request for a replacement phone due to a software malfunction from Apple CareService. I suspected that since I made an appointment with an Apple genius before, the Serial number on the phone was associated with my email. I called Apple to confirm this, after Apple and AT&T transferred me back and forth a few times I had the confirmation from the two companies the phone was mine , I had the address the service request was coming from (in the email) and a phone number (from an Apple rep).

I’m so excited that I can get my phone back! Until the cops arrive at my house, they tell me that since I didn’t file a police report they can’t do anything.

The NYPD officers also told Alisa that even if she’d filed the report, it would be up to Apple and AT&T to decide whether to return her stolen phone to her. (Mind, from what Alisa said, it doesn’t sound as if someone took her phone passively- it sounds like a mugging.) Perhaps AT&T will help?

So I call AT&T… and over the course of 12 hours I speak to a bunch of people who are all very sorry that this is the situation I’m in, but their hands are tied — they have to honor the warranty and it does not matter that it’s clear the phone is mine. They would need the authorities to tell them to do otherwise.

Okay, I was just screwing with you guys there- did anyone think AT&T would help? So this poor woman tries to deal again with Apple, and bless their hearts, the NYPD tries to help her, again. (This is why I love the NYPD. They’re often very nice and reasonable and helpful when they really don’t have to be.)

The officer spends about an hour on the phone with Apple telling them that once the current holder of the phone ships the phone back to Apple, they should ship me the replacement. He gets the same answer I got–they will not do anything, they do not care that the person who has the phone currently is using a stolen phone and is not using it with AT&T (AT&T confirmed the phone # I got from the Apple rep is NOT an AT&T number).

I thought part of the point of us being locked into long-ass contracts for fancy phones was that they’re registered to us. It’s like human gadget marriage with our SSN, mother’s maiden name and personal info interlinked with their serial numbers, so we can recover them when they’re nicked and keep bending over for the cell providers every month. Assuming each detail of Alisa’s account is correct, how can they not return the phone to its rightful owner? I tried to think of possible reasons they might be obligated to return it to the thief, but I can’t come up with a good reason (third party reselling, address change, etc.) Anyone?

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