How to replace your lost iPhone (aka, Don’t Listen to the Customer Service Reps)

(If you’re looking for concise instructions as to how to deal with replacing your own lost iPhone, scroll down to the bottom.)

OK, so I lost my phone yesterday. This is full of suck on a completely subjective scale, but on a grander scale it’s, well. It’s a trifle. It did add an unpleasant dimension to a long, long drive across half of Massachusetts in the middle of the night in the sleeting slush. But it also gave me an opportunity to practice non-attachment, learn whatever lessons I’m supposed to learn, and all those other things I’m slowly cultivating.

(The main lesson, by the way: don’t drive in inclement freezy weather with the phone in your lap, particularly not when you’re tired and won’t notice the phone falling into the snow when you stop to get ice off your windshield wipers.)

This morning I looked through my things again, realized that the iPhone hadn’t magically reappeared, and decided to bite the bullet and replace it. Logged into my account on the AT&T site, checked out my options, and saw that I could get a new 8GB iPhone for $399. Wait, hold on a second. I got it for $199 in the first place, what gives? OH! That wasn’t Apple lowering its price, that was AT&T subsidizing my purchase lo those months ago! New thing learned. Well, damn.

But wait! A refurbished 8GB iPhone is $199, and Apple requires a two-year commitment for that. I’m ok with refurbished, and with the two years. So I call up customer service on Skype, hoping that maybe they’d tell me I can order it and then go to one of the local stores to pick it up, if they have one in stock.

The customer service rep outlines my options, which are different from what I’m seeing on the web. Here are my options as Christopher Estepa (ultimately a great, patient and thorough rep) gave them:

– get a new phone for $399; same phone number, no contract extension;

– get the refurb phone for $199, but that requires a new contract, with a new phone line, and my existing phone line is still under contract until mid-2010, so I’d be paying for two phone lines; or

– get a very basic Nokia phone for $40 and wait until December, when I’ll be eligible for the $199 “upgrade” price.

I’m listening to him outline my options, and I’m furious. First it was completely unclear that getting my phone last year for $199 was only made possible by AT&T’s subsidy. Then they’re telling me that I can pay twice as much for a new phone, but that there’s no way at all to get a refurbished phone for the price the web gives and use it with my existing phone line. There’s no technical reason for this, so I keep insisting that this all feels like a swindle to me.

OK, says Mr. Estepa, let’s have you try to get that refurb online and see what happens. He believes that this will result in my getting a new phone line. But that’s not how it looks from here: last night/this morning when I tried to see if this was for real and started the checkout process, my existing phone number featured prominently on the order form. Like this:

So not only do I have no indication as to this being a contract for a new line, the web is suggesting that I’m still operating within the line I currently use. In addition, while I was still in the shopping cart, the following was part of the disclaimer section: “Your first month’s statement will include a one-time activation fee (unless waived), prorated monthly charge, as well as one month’s charge in advance. If you are keeping an existing plan, the monthly fees you already pay will not be reflected in the shopping cart.” Again, no indication that this is a contract for a new line.

So I add the phone to my online shopping cart, go to checkout. Then we spend something like 45 minutes filling out two web forms.

The first screen I get asks me for my contact info and the shipping info. I enter in various configurations of what they have on file and my work address for shipping, and keep getting redirected to the same page without any error messages. Not OK. Finally figure it out: ALL of the information has to be the same stuff that they have on file for me. I can’t just choose to have it shipped to work. And if it auto-fills in 999-999-9999 for the contact phone number, I should leave that alone since that’s what they have on file and the system horks if I put in an actual number.

Fine, I get through that screen. The next screen asks me for my SSN and date of birth for a credit check. Aha! says the rep. We don’t do that unless you’re getting a new account. Um, ok, so what do I do, and what about the evidence above that suggests I’m not getting a new phone line? Well, he says, let’s try this anyway. Fine, so I enter the credit check info (yes, on a secure website, and at that point, damned if I was not going to try to complete the transaction). On the same screen, I enter the billing address and the credit card info. The total is $208.95, including tax.

I place the order. He says something to the effect of, well, what do you know. He claims that he’d been confused earlier, and that the second option above (new contract, new phone line, still responsible for the old phone line) was for a new, not refurbished, phone. We were talking for over an hour, and I’m generally skeptical of this. My short-term memory isn’t that bad. However, refurbs only apparently became available in December, again according to him, and it just seemed that the information as to how they’re handled hadn’t propagated. Not that that’s an excuse, but given how helpful he was in general, he gets the benefit of the doubt here.

I get the confirmation email, which has some ambiguous language: “Your order may be subject to AT&T eligibility and credit requirements. If we have any questions about your eligibility or your order, we will contact you via email.” Mr. Estepa assures me that what they’re actually checking is that I haven’t purchased any additional phones at a discount. They only let you do this once, apparently, so that people don’t keep buying new-to-them phones and reselling them illegally. Fair enough, although have I mentioned there’s no insurance available for the iPhone?

So I’m expecting to receive this in the next few days. Email says it’ll ship in 2-5 business days, and 2-day FedEx is free. I’ll update if it doesn’t work, but at this point it should. To sum up:

Lost your iPhone? Here’s how to replace it with a refurbished one for less money:

0. Please note that these instructions are most useful for those who are not eligible for a phone upgrade. If you are, you can get a non-refurbished phone for $199. Or so They say.

1. Log onto your account at

2. In the Phone/Device section mid-window, click on “check upgrade options”

3. Next to the device you’re replacing, click Upgrade Today

4. From the long list of phones, choose the one you want. As of today’s writing, the 8GB refurbs are $199, and the 16GB refurbs are $299.

5. Go to your cart. Make sure that, at the top of the cart, below your name, it says: “Upgrade: [your city/state/zip] | [your current phone number]”

6. Check out. Make sure that the contact info is the one they have on file for you, and that the shipping address is the same address. It seems, if you want it shipped elsewhere (like, say, to work), your input won’t get accepted. If any phone numbers are pre-filled in with all 9s, leave them be like that.

7. If any of that doesn’t work and you have to speak to customer service, you can use Skype for free to dial toll-free U.S. numbers from within the U.S. (Usually it costs money to use Skype to call actual phones.) If the service rep tells you this price isn’t right, invite them to log into your account and look at the long phone price list with you.

That should do it. If there’s something I’m missing, let me know and I’ll supplement.

2 Responses to “How to replace your lost iPhone (aka, Don’t Listen to the Customer Service Reps)”

  1. dillweed Says:

    good to know. thanky, veek.

  2. Barry Says:

    Doesn’t seem to work any more. When I go to the list of available phones no iPhones appear. Not even the non refurbed ones.

    They must have plugged this loophole!

    Thanks anyway. I lost mine today; I may have to pay full price for my mistake.