I ordered three new iPhones from AT&T last June as part of a Father’s Day gift. The phones arrived four days later, stamped “refurbished -- like new.”

I immediately called AT&T and explained this was not what I ordered. The rep said the only way I could return them for a full refund was to activate the phones first. He said this was the only way to be eligible for “buyer’s remorse” and a refund within their 14-day trial period.

After I activated them, I returned all three phones and got an acknowledgment by email.

I waited and waited for my refund. I spoke with 11 different reps and spent a lot of time on hold. I listened to waterfalls and birds chirping for 40 minutes waiting for a supervisor. At one point, I was told I actually owed them $1,489.86 for early termination of the phone contracts.

Eventually, I got the charge reversed for the phones, and they did waive the $1,489.86 early termination fee. But now I am being billed for service for these phones – phones that I tried to return in the very beginning. The bill for $263.77 has been turned over to a collection agency. Please help.

- Martha Berns, Park Ridge, Ill.

Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

DEAR MARTHA:

Those phones just did not want to let you go! This is one of those times where it’s easy to see what should have happened. In a perfect world, you should have been able to just return the phones right away, before going through the rigmarole of activating them – thus incurring cancelation fees and service charges.

We contacted AT&T spokesman Emily Edmonds, hopeful that this silly problem could be resolved. Soon after, AT&T’s Office of the President got in touch with you to say they had removed the service charge and you won’t be bothered by the collection agency anymore.

We asked Edmonds about the original mix-up, which triggered the whole problem, and she blamed a “glitch” for you getting refurbished phones, rather than new ones.

AT&T does sell refurbished phones at reduced prices, and they are clearly labeled as such. AT&T says its refurbished devices are repaired, refaced and updated with the latest software – but be that as it may, Edmonds say you should not have received those.

In general, refurbished phones can be a good way to save money and keep electronic waste out of landfills; some phones are simply “open box” items that were returned before anyone used them. But consumers should make sure they’re dealing with a reputable dealer and get a warranty.

And if they expected to get a new phone, they should definitely speak up.

- The ABC News Fixer

Connect with Us
Social Tools Facebook Twitter Twitter Connect with Us YouTube RSS
Stephanie Zimmermann

Most people groan at the thought of spending hours on the phone with a customer service call center, but Stephanie Zimmermann relishes the chance to slice through red tape.

Before joining ABC News, Stephanie untangled consumer problems at the Chicago Sun-Times, where her popular column recovered more than $1.4 million in refunds, credits, and merchandise for consumers in the Windy City.

Stephanie, who lives in Chicago, has also worked at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and has bachelor's and master's degrees from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. But most of all, Stephanie is a consumer who hates to see anyone else get ripped off.