AT&T Cracking Down on iPhone 3G Unlockers?

The Consumerist posted a interesting little story that caught our attention. It goes something like this: A customer replaced his 8 GB iPhone 3G with a 16 GB model within the first month of his service. After receiving his new iPhone 3G, it was later stolen. Now he is not being allowed to purchase a new iPhone 3G from AT&T and Apple. Keep in mind he intends to pay the full, unsubsidized price of the phone but it seems AT&T may think he's unlocking these phones. Here is the consumers letter:

I origninally bought an 8gb and returned it for a 16gb within the first 30 days of service. Now I lost my 16gb and they won't sell me another for 18 months! After using my lunch break I went back to work and decided I would try again at another ATT store. The next store said they had to deal with the same problem and asked me if I was attached to my phone number. They offered to cancel my line and start another, or add a line so that I could purchase an iPhone. I told them this was not an option because I had to pay an ETF through Verizon to keep this number and I would not part with it. I also did not need another line and would not pay more for monthly service, especially if I was about to pay $500 for a replacement iPhone. I then asked to speak to the manager who said that he would emails his ops team, whatever that means.

Have any of you ran into this problem? Personally we have yet to hear this happening to anyone else. Could there be more to this story...?

[Via The Consumerist]

Jeremy

Community editor. Tech enthusiast. All-around geek.

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There are 24 comments. Add yours.

rpv says:

In UK, you would need to go and buy PayAsYouGo version and just pay for it, but States don't have it. so you can probably ask a friend to buy you one here and just activate in the States, however, they should be a policy for buying a handset perhaps at Full cost of it.

Chad says:

Speaking as indirect agent for AT&T I can vouch for the 18 month ban on buying a new Iphone. AT&T has a "security" measure built into their system that will not allow a new Iphone IMEI to be added to the account for the 18 months.

Ryan says:

What a joke. So if your iPhone was stolen your screwed.

icebike says:

I've seen a similar scenario posted in Apple Forums.
I can see where ATT may be on solid ground in not allowing more than one iPhone associated with a single line of service. Especially a fourth, or fifth one.
But a third, seems a bit restrictive.
Still what business is it of ATT/Apple what happens to the old phones as long as a guy wants to pay full price.
Once you unlock it, Apple's warranty is void. They made the sale at full price and immediately shed any warranty liability. What bean counter could be object to that?
ATT is hoping to gather the ETF fee on the existing line and commit the customer to a new contract on another line.
I don't think this tactic would survive a court challenge.

icebike says:

@Chad:
How does the security feature handle replacements under warranty?
And precisely who (apple/ATT) is being protected here?

Apple Repair New Orleans says:

Apple needs to chill.
Seriously, it's this mentality that drives customers away.

Jeffdc5 says:

ha at&t never fails to make me laugh just buy another iphone on ebay go to a at&t store tell them you lost your phone and need a new sim for a replacement phone you have and there you go your back using an iphone.

Jeremy says:

@New Orleans, I think this is more of a AT&T thing rather than a Apple thing.
And if they are going to do this, it would be fair to at least offer insurance on the iPhone from now on but I don't see that happening anytime soon.

Jeffdc5 says:

yeah that's strange the iphone is their flagship but they don't offer insurance every att phone i ever had i had insurance but its not offered for the iphone weiirrrrrddddddd

PSM says:

I had my iPhone stolen and had no problem getting another one activated (this was back in November). But it was also the 2nd iPhone on my account, not the 3rd.

frog says:

They also limit outright purchases in Australia.

jeversion1 says:

so i actually had the same kinda problem today almost. I started my at&t contract with a blackberry bold, then went to the iphone 3g (hate me or not im a crackberry.) the original reason for this switch was to break myself away from being boxed in to just one phone type forever in life. Doing this (to keep it short) made me love all the non hassle i have with my iphone being a mac user( except you know the mms and background applications) so on i searched for another phone being that the curve 8900 came out i switched to t-mobile and then realized 32 dropped calls (in one week) later that att wasnt really the devil so i called and re activated my iphone. still on a search for something with touchscreen and mms and hella style i purchased the lg incite monday. Missing my syncing capablilties out of the box for no cost i called to re activate iphone. They wouldnt even let me re add the phone to my account because i had too many on record. Even though it being the same iphone each time lol. I mean come on....is the phone stillllllll that awesome that they have to take that many measures? I am happy to say I am back on my iphone this morning after much harrasment on my part lol.

icebike says:

@Jeversion:
If you were bouncing onto and off of my network that frequently I'd be willing to wave goodbye to you as well.
You may remember this story: http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-9739869-7.html (Sprint kisses high-maintenance customers good bye back in 2007).

sting7k says:

I've seen people in Apple's forums complain about this too. It really boggles the mind. If someone is there with a story about how their phone was broken/stolen/eaten by dog/etc. and is right there ready to pay the FULL price why wouldn't you sell it to them? It just doesn't make sense.
I will say, all the posts I saw in Apple's forums were form people who got this story from AT&T. I don't know what Apple would say, I would think they would be more than happy to sell an iPhone at full price. Maybe they should just start offering insurance or and save people some headache.

Bryan says:

this is a joke god american cellular networks suck big ones

Mr. Luchese says:

Come to NYC att or apple reps or aaleperson wouldn't dream of doing that to new yorker. Trust me you would get a new one at full no question ask it don't matter if is your 10th iPhone I would know I jailbrakphone for all my friends and their friends. And I've personally bought already 5 iPhone 3g for friends on my account. Ps I have a single account not family plan. Come to NYC.

John-Fox says:

Yes, this happened to me a few weeks ago. I finally had to add a line to get the iPhone again after having bought and 'returned' the thing back in July of 2008. So it does not even matter if you returned it, it is 18 months. Then, after I added the line and wanted to put the iPhone on the line where the iPhone was before, they had to fill out paperwork to send to Apple. After about three days the iPhone was able to be put back on the line. Ridiculous!

Henry says:

I had the same thing almost happened to me. I bought my first Iphone 3g when it came out and my girlfriend suggested that i sell it cause i needed the extra money. 3 months later my financial situation settled out and i re-bought the iphone 3g via ATT's online store and had it shipped to me at the refurbished full price 8 gig $199.99. Crazy thing was when i plugged my iphone into my computer i didn't need to activate or sign up for the iphone 3g plan. So basically i have an unlocked 3g iphone w/o being unlocked. (well it runs on att and i have att but i don't have that extra 30.00 iphone internet bill). I just used Wi-Fi as my internet.

Majic07 says:

And people wonder why the I phone as well as other phones are highly priced. ATT does not have a no contract price for the i phone. The $399 and $499 price is an exception upgrade price. That means even if you pay that higher price you still have to sign a new 2 year contract. There were rumors that a no contract price of $599 and $699 was coming but never released. I understand you have a right to do whatever you want once you purchase and I Phone and when the scam works be happy but when ATT cracks down and catches you don’t be pissed at them. With every I Phone sold ATT loses money. Sure they make it back with data plans but that takes awhile to recoup. If you want to be mad at someone be mad at all of the yoyo's coming in and buying them and unlocking and reselling them. You may not be one of those but one bad apple ruins it for the rest. As for not insuring the I phone, most customers first off bitch at paying $5 a month for the premium and $50 to $125 for the deductable. The funny thing is no one bitched at the same policy for home and car insurance but bitch like hell when they come in and are told that they also need to pay a deductable. The other side would be the deductable on an I Phone. If they do come out with insure for the Ii phone I bet it will be $10 a month with a deductable of $300. Bet the people in this forum who complain that there is no insure would still bitch if they did have insure and had to pay that deductable. People want everything for free when it comes to cell phones and then bitch at why things are priced the way they are. Do you think that networks and phones are free to keep up? Do you think vendors donate phones and networks? Yes you pay a monthly service charge but you also receive service in exchange. The cell phone companies are partially to blame here for starting with a free phone. No place in Europe are phones free (mostly no contracts either). If the carriers would have put prices tags back in the beginning instead of giving everything away we would not have these issues. I think back then they did not think cell phones would be the way they are today.

Gib says:

Wow I can not believe the stories about apple or att would limit the number of iPhones that people pay full retail price for.

sican says:

Yeah, it happened to me as well here in the uk with o2. I went with a friend to buy an iphone an at the last moment I decided I wanted one but didn't have money so my friend would pay for both. Turned up that the manager didn't allow this, as a policy only one iphone per customer!! Whatever, we acted smart and went to another o2 store and purchased it eventually! :)

john says:

AT&T makes money on subscriptions from iPhone users. They lose money on handset sales. Yes, they could sell unsubsidized priced iPhones, but they have a vested interest in keeping all the phones on AT&T's network: they don't want to allow anyone to use it on T-Mobile. More, every phone they sell at a full, unsubsidized prices is more stock they don't make a profit on. Why on earth would any company stock a device they won't make a profit on? That's just bad cash flow policy. If it weren't for the large number of people who actually are unlocking these phonse to use on T-Mobile, this policy wouldn't be necessary.
To the poor guy who upgraded then lost his phone, yes it sucks and AT&T needs to address that type of situation. It could start by subscribing to the international system for reporting lost GSM phones. Convince T-Mobile to do the same(I don't know if they do or not) and then any lost/stolen phone could be reported and the IMEI blocked and the iPhone wouldn't work on either network, protecting AT&T without screwing the customer.

USA says:

Wake up big business the customer is always right. Don't tell me about every other countries policy , this is US we have rules to protect the customer for false and misleading advertising and other misconceptions these phone companies want us to think, Warranties with fine "BS" print and other "out" clauses. We pay top dollar and are being use as a test bed for all kinds of products. The cell phone service is shoddy at best in this country and we pay good money for this crap !!!!!
Wake up and take back your rights as a consumer.
The market needs honest competition and not some over taxed overwhelmed consumer being sold a phone with a service. Get it right.

kekuaaokalani1 says:

AMEN! to what USA wrote.
What gives cellular companies the right to modify our contracts and make it inconspicuous so that consumers get duped & end up having to pay ETF when they discover the modification made by the cellular companies and the consumer is not willing to accept the new terms. But no way will the companies allow the consumers to modify the contract...pretty 1-sided!