'Scores' of customers ripped off by Apple's trade-in partner, says report

Macbook Air M1
Macbook Air M1 (Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • A new report has highlighted the questionable reputation of Apple's trade-in partner Phobio.
  • Multiple users have told The Verge they were quoted a much lower price for devices than their estimates.
  • Many of these users could not find any evidence of the faults the company was pointing out.

A new report claims that Apple's trade-in partner Phobio has a questionable reputation and has tried to rip off "scores" of Apple customers.

The Verge highlights the story of multiple users who spoke to the outlet regarding the trading-in of their Apple devices such as the MacBook Pro for cash against new purchases, only to be given much lower estimates than previously thought because of seemingly insignificant or non-existent problems. From the report:

The situation soon changed after his laptop arrived for inspection. Suddenly, McGloin was told his MacBook was worth just $140, less than half what Apple originally quoted. The mysterious culprit: "display has 3 or more white spots," the Apple Store app told him. It's a defect McGloin doesn't remember ever seeing, and one that he should have noticed: typically, white spots on an LCD display are evidence of serious damage or burn-in and are clearly visible. In McGloin's estimation, however, the laptop was in "excellent" condition, he tells The Verge, and he didn't see any white spots when he packed it up... The Verge inspected McGloin's MacBook in person, after he rejected the trade-in offer and Phobio returned the computer to him. We could detect no such white spots or any discernible damage whatsoever. The laptop booted up and operates like new, and it has since passed numerous online diagnostic tests.

Whilst The Verge says it is totally unclear why his estimate was halved, McGloin's experience is reportedly "indicative" of the perception of Phobio online:

"that the company stiffs owners of Apple products out of hundreds of dollars in trade-in value — and the supposed "3 or more white spots" defect seems unlikely enough that it bears investigation."

The Verge notes two other people who spoke with the outlet who reported the 'white spots' defect as the reason their estimates were changed. The report says the problem is extensive:

And that's just a tiny sample of an online torrent of complaints against Phobio and its practices across multiple types of gadgets and with an alarming uptick in the last few months.

Another story from the report tells of a user whose laptop quote was reduced from $640 to $210 again because of 'white spots', the user didn't even get any proof of the problem Phobio had found:

Scores of other instances of this exact situation happening to Apple product owners can be found online, too, with numerous customers citing Phobio's "3 or more white spots" explanation as the reason for their adjusted trade-in, as well as stories of other types of apparent damage detected only after sending a device in for inspection. This isn't just restricted to MacBooks, either. Customers often complain of reduced trade-in quotes for iPhones, iPads, and iMacs, too.

The report further notes how many customers don't know about Phobio, and think they are simply interacting with Apple. The report says that Apple confirmed that Phobio is not the only recycling partner it has in the U.S., but it would not name any others. As the report notes it is common for companies to use a third-party partner for recycling, Apple's trade-in service in the UK is provided by Brightstar.

The report says that "even a cursory Google search on Phobio" and its handling of Apple's trade-ins turns up "dozens upon dozens of message board threads detailing bad experiences and a Better Business Bureau page with more than 500 complaints and new entries added almost every day."

Other issues raised in the report include grainy images sent as proof of found defects that didn't show any clear evidence that couldn't really be considered proof.

Whilst the report notes that some customers did have positive interactions with Phobio (one even having the price of their device marked up), it summarised the complaints as follows:

A large number of the complaints about Phobio have a common theme: a MacBook or iPhone that seems to be in perfect working order, only for the device to later have an unexplained deficiency. Phobio, which is at that point in possession of the device, then offers the customer the option to accept the reduced quote or ask for the product to be shipped back. (Phobio does offer to ship the product both ways for free.)

Phobio told The Verge it "carefully" assess devices sent to them:

We specifically train our support team to see the trade from the point of view of the customer, with empathy, and to advocate for the customer. If devices are damaged in transit or we make a mistake in the inspection, we seek to fix it immediately. We strongly believe in giving full and fair value to customers for their trade ins. This helps fuel the circular economy, and sustainability, and it is part of our corporate purpose.

Have you ever had a similar experience trying to trade in a device with Apple? Let us know in the comments or over on Twitter.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design. Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9