Cancel iPhone Without Venturing Outside

I cancelled an iPhone within the 30 days buyer’s remorse period recently and learned something interesting. Before AT&T will let people who bought their iPhones from Apple cancel service, they want you to return the phone first. They also want proof it was returned. They also want you to print out this proof and take it physically to an AT&T store and show it to them. Returning the phone, I have no problem with. But trekking out to a store to show someone in person a printout of an email?Madness.

Part of the problem is that AT&T and Apple’s systems are not hooked up. The other part is fraud prevention, I suppose. That this helps suppress the number of successful cancellation is probably just like an unexpected bonus for AT&T. It wasn’t a big deal, though, as I was able to push past this—mocking them for previously telling me I would get an automatic email letting me know my service was cancelled after Apple got the phone I mailed back to them did the trick somehow—and get them to just let me fax in the return receipt without ever having to leave my blog cave (thank you,


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  1. dragonfire81 says:

    Most wireless carriers are like this, they don’t want you to cancel within 30 days and have you keep a highly subsidized phone, so they need to make absolutely certain they get the phone back from you before they cancel the account.

    It’s frustrating for the customer, but a necessary evil based on how our cell phone services are set up in this country.

    • R3PUBLIC0N says:

      @dragonfire81: But since the way the system is set up is not necessary, the whole shebang becomes merely evil.

      • jnrcorp says:

        @R3PUBLIC0N: Well, people in the US do not wish to pay for phones. Therefore, we suffer from 2-year contracts and old technology. It is necessary in order to keep competition.

        • bohemian says:

          @jnrcorp: I would be totally happy to pay full price for an un-hobbled phone if in trade I could get a phone plan that included unlimited data or an easy to use wifi option and wasn’t a total rip off.

          The price of technology keeps going down. Why are we still subsidizing phones?

  2. Vermifuge says:

    Am I the only one that thinks this is a reasonable request?

    • kabuk1 says:


      Not at all. I find it perfectly reasonable. I have worked for a cellular provider so I know just how much cost the carriers really do have to eat just to gain that new customer. And contrary to popular suspicion, cell phone stores do NOT get their phones at a discount. They pay full price for each one(at least the store I worked for did), which is why ‘upgrades’ will cost you full price unless your contract is up. Even if you do return the phone w/in 30 days, they have to RMA it back to the manufacturer for refurbishing & they don’t get the entire cost of the phone back. So they kinda get screwed either way. I recently had to return a phone I was just not in love with a few months ago, and I felt kinda bad about it.

      Now, if you paid FULL PRICE for your phone, then I completely believe you should get to keep it.

      • tartis says:

        Cell stores pay full price but receive a large kickback after 60 or 90 days of you keeping your phone contract. I always like to buy from the carrier and avoid the return problems.

    • italianscallion33 says:

      @vermifuge: Nope, you’re not, I don’t see the issue.

  3. Bryan_E says:

    Sounds like a reasonable request to want to make sure that the phone is returned before service is canceled, but poor execution. Apple and AT&T should be able to find a more customer friendly way to assist their Iphone toting customers.

  4. pb5000 says:

    you mean people return iPhones? gasp

  5. Skater009 says:

    sure they do . there are better phone out there for some .

  6. WraithSama says:

    I have a dilemma on my hands. I have good service from T-Mobile with a Blackberry and get a corporate rate discount through my employer. On the other hand, my corporate rate discount for AT&T is higher, would give me more minutes than I have now (plus rollover), a new iPhone 3GS super cheap, unlimited data, and would actually be *cheaper* than the T-Mobile plan.

    The only problem is… AT&T.

    • WorldHarmony says:

      @WraithSama: I feel you. I’ve been a Verizon customer for over 10 years but now I live in a dead zone. I use my iPod touch more than I use my cell phone, but my wifi is a bit wonky here, so an iPhone would solve more than one problem. Except for AT&T.

    • legwork says:

      @WraithSama: In my experience, Blackberry customer service is sidesourced to Blackberry people, and should be head & shoulders above anything from AT&T. Consider that before signing on with the Empire.

      • kexline says:

        @legwork: That is NOT true for Verizon, fwiw. I never dealt with Blackberry customer service at AT&T — except back in the dark ages when Blackberries were called “ipagers” and ran on a separate network — so I don’t know if they’re outsourced or not.

        If you have a Verizon Blackberry problem, you get to talk to a Verizon employee in their “smartphone” department, who covers several makes and models of phones and has never seen yours in particular, and thinks that it actually matters that they aren’t familiar with your model even though they should have seen the same OS at some point, and if you still have a problem after talking to them, too bad. And if you try calling Blackberry for service, they will politely explain that they don’t assist Verizon customers.

        I know that’s OT, but I would hate for someone to think that’s true in general and expect smartphone tech support on VZW.

    • Vanilla5 says:

      @WraithSama: Well, I can only say that I’ve been with AT&T (formerly Cingular) since 2001 and haven’t had to deal with anything that I couldn’t work through. I also haven’t personally had any service issues at all (I’ve lived in 2 major cities since then), even when traveling. A lot of people complain that they’ve had these horrific issues with AT&T but I can only say that as long as you pay your bill on time and are a good customer, there shouldn’t be any problems.

      I have had issues paying bills on time at certain points (I have 3 lines on my acct and I have to “take up collection” every month, which is a pain) but even then, they see that I’ve been a customer for so long and I’ve had them bend over backwards for me. However, not all of their folks are competent and I’ve been known to hang up and call back to get a smarter person.

      I also have an iPhone and get a discount through my company, so I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.

      These are just my personal opinions and experiences.

      • blueneon says:

        @Vanilla5: “However, not all of their folks are competent and I’ve been known to hang up and call back to get a smarter person.”

        – Does not being competent and calling back to get a smarter person, mean the first rep did not give you what you want? We’re used to people like you rep-shopping if you got a no the first three times, and it does get noted in your account. “We certainly appreciate you being a long-time customer blah blah blah…” is what I say when someone wants me to give them a payment arrangement even though their bill is 3 months past due and they think I should because they have been with us since the dawn of time or since there were bag phones or since a particular year, etc. The problem is, once one rep “bends over backwards” for a customer, then that customer tends to think that we should do that for them every single time. C’mon people, let’s all pay our bills on time, it’s the right thing to do.

        • Vanilla5 says:

          @blueneon: No. That’s not what I’m getting at.

          For example, when it comes to the iPhone, not everybody is savvy on what you can and cannot do – especially regarding the 1st generation iPhones versus the 3G and 3GS iPhones. I’ve had one rep tell me something I know to 100% be false, I kindly hang up, call back, and get a rep that is a little more versed.

          Also, if I have billing issues, I’ve been known to basically get a rep that just doesn’t feel like diggin in and getting to the bottom of the issue and telling me, “Sorry – nothing I can do for you.” when I know that it was a user error. I’m familiar with pro-rating and know when I’ve been overcharged.

          So, no – I’m not one of the “people like you” that you alluded to, sir/madame.

          • Vanilla5 says:

            *wasn’t a user error.

          • blueneon says:

            @Vanilla5: Please do accept my sincerest apologies for making assumptions.

            And yes, I oftentimes have people call wanting to keep their service active when they haven’t paid their bill for 2-3 months. Being 3-4 days late happen to us all, and btw, you don’t get a late fee or show as a late payment until your bill cycles again :)

        • Anonymous says:

          @blueneon: Wow that’s really impressive!

          If you guys can figure out that the same customer has called 3 times and is rep shopping why can’t you figure out how correct super obvious billing issues before they inconvenience your customers? Why can’t you figure out technical problems without wasting your customer’s time either?

          Oh yeah. That’s right. You don’t get as much of a rush helping your customers as you do abusing them. Its more fun to patronize your customers and beat them over the head with nonsense policy and procedure and waste their time in the process. My bad!

          You should change your corporate motto to “AT&T where our problem is now your problem. Deal with it SUCKER!!!”

          • blueneon says:

            @LeroyMagumpus: Wow, you sound like a very angry person, I feel bad for you. I’m not sure what I did to you to be on the receiving end of such hostility. Having a bad day?

            Since I understand that people sometimes post without reading what they are going to say, I will excuse it though. It doesn’t take an Einstein of a rep to see that the customer you are speaking to was just told no to whatever the request it was, because previous reps note it. Next, I don’t abuse the customers, there are numerous quality control processes in place to ensure that doesn’t happen. I have no doubt that if a customer is abused, they would speak to a manager. I’ve been at my job for 5 years, which wouldn’t happen if I am abusive (as you were to me) to customers. As far as policy and procedure, if something can’t be done, then it can’t be done. What am I supposed to do? If it is something that cannot be done, by anyone, then how am I in the wrong by explaining that to a customer? Sorry, I don’t have the fast track to the CEO to get policy changed. Look, I’m a consumer just like everyone else, and I have to deal with companies too, and sometimes they irritate me as well. The difference is, since I work in a call center, I treat the rep I am on the phone with the same way I want to be treated. Should try it some day. I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day :)

            • italianscallion33 says:

              @blueneon: I don’t think LeroyMagumpus was talking about abusing customers directly over the phone, but about trash talking them and making assumptions about them outside of the workplace, or with other reps if you’re at a call center.

          • italianscallion33 says:
        • italianscallion33 says:

          @blueneon: Sometimes reps CAN just be incompetent. You can tell they are reading from a script (which they’re supposed to do, I know) but your problem isn’t addressed in the script, and the rep doesn’t know what to do. Some reps are knowledgeable beyond what’s in the script, and some aren’t.

      • italianscallion33 says:

        @Vanilla5: “A lot of people complain that they’ve had these horrific issues with AT&T but I can only say that as long as you pay your bill on time and are a good customer, there shouldn’t be any problems.”

        I agree. I haven’t had problems.

    • Honus says:


      If you’re going to get it through your employer then it should by all accounts be a purchase on AT&T Premier.

      I’ve had good luck in the times I have needed to contact AT&T Premier service. I don’t know if they choose better reps for corporate support but I’d suspect they do.

      • WraithSama says:

        Hmm, I hadn’t thought about that. Yes, I believe it is AT&T Premier service, though I don’t know if that includes “better” support or not.

      • tkdnate says:

        @Honus: It’s been my experience that Business Care reps are mostly outsourced vendor centers, actually, and not directly employed by AT&T. In speaking to them as a customer, and as a rep, I’ve been unimpressed with the service provided.

        Especially as a rep.

        My apologies to blueneon if they’re a business rep. I have had excellent reps as well. Few and far, unfortunately. :-/

        • blueneon says:

          @tkdnate: :) not a business rep here, and I believe you’re correct .. the business reps I’ve talked to are usually in outsourced centers in Canada

  7. I'm Sorry, You're Wrong. says:

    Can’t you just get AT&T to cancel your contract by jailbreaking your phone, tethering it to your computer and using up way more bandwidth than a reasonable user would use? Then you get a subsidized iphone and no contract!

  8. keith4298 says:

    I’ve just about had it with AT&T. I wanted to upgrade by original iPhone to a 3GS and was told that since I added it to a family plan when I got a 3G, I was ineligible until December. I’ve now had 2 lines without an upgrade – WTF AT&T?

    • Elvisisdead says:

      @keith4298: Don’t hate the palyer – hate the game. Learn the rules.

    • italianscallion33 says:

      @keith4298: Why should AT&T subsidize a new phone for you when you just got a new one a year ago? If you want to pay full price, then by all means, do that. But I don’t get why people feel entitled to a new subsidized iPhone every year, or why AT&T gave in to all the people’s whining. EVERY carrier makes you wait about 2 years (or shorter on AT&T if you’re spending a ton every month) before you can get a new phone at the subsidized price. It makes sense from a business standpoint.

      Besides, the upgrade from 3G to 3GS isn’t worth all the money. I have a 3G and am perfectly happy to wait one more year and get whatever iPhone they put out next year, which will have more new (to me) features than 3GS does.

      • schmendrick12 says:

        @italianscallion33: No, he had an ORIGINAL iPhone-as in, NOT subsidized. So he paid full price, which means there should be no reason for AT&T to deny him buying a subsidized iPhone 3GS. But they’re using his family plan as an excuse.

        While I agree that there’s not much reason to upgrade from a 3G to a 3GS, upgrading from an original iPhone 2G to a 3GS would be really nice.

  9. Vanilla5 says:

    Since AT&T sells the iPhone, what’s the problem with going in and returning it and canceling the service all at the same AT&T store? (Unless you bought it from Apple, then I could see.) This is a bit ridiculous.

    • WraithSama says:

      You might have missed it in the post, but it stated that he did buy it from Apple.

    • internetsguy says:

      @Vanilla5: i am also returning my 3Gs within the 30 day period, but was told that I could return the phone to AT&T even though I bought it directly from Apple. Haven’t tried to return it yet, but I’m definitely trying the AT&T store first so they don’t try to con me out of waiving the early term fee.

  10. sonneillon says:

    iPhone with AT&T is a waste of money anyways. There is very little the iPhone does that isn’t done cheaper elsewhere, the right to say you have an iPhone is a right that costs 20-40 bucks extra a month. Saying that.

    It’s not unreasonable for AT&T to want the phone back if they are refunding the money paid because they eat the cost of the subsidy.

    • kabuk1 says:


      I agree completely. Iphones are, IMO, not much more than a status symbol for a lot of insecure people. As are most Apple products, actually. I have a touch pro on sprint that whips the iphone’s ass. My parents & I are on a family plan & our total phone bill for 3 lines with unlimited text & data on my line is about $120 a month. Isn’t that about what it costs to have ONE iphone on AT&T?

      • chris_d says:

        Aren’t cell phones in general status symbols for insecure people? It seems a lot of people can’t wait to get a new one and sign a new contract for privilege so they can have the fanciest thing. Aren’t you just arguing that your status symbol is better than someone else’s?

        There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t read some snarky comment here about how cool cell phones are and if you don’t have one especially or don’t have all the expensive options like messaging and mobile internets then you’re like OMG totally uncool!!!

        Either way, I can beat your price with a 3-line family plan for $73 per month on Verizon. How is it so cheap? We don’t pay for all that extra status symbol stuff…

        • JWBrockman says:


          Exactly. All you people who just NEED your indoor plumbing, your color televisions, and your antibiotics are so status-obsessed that it makes me want to vomit.

          • Skin Art Squared says:

            @JWBrockman: “All you people who just NEED your indoor plumbing, your color televisions, and your antibiotics are so status-obsessed that it makes me want to vomit.”

            Don’t really NEED any of those things. Can just as easily shit on the lawn and watch traffic while oozing infected pus.

        • italianscallion33 says:

          @chris_d: Being able to check email (great for productivity especially when traveling) and go online (a great boredom killer) are status symbols? I thought they were actually useful things. Oh wait. They are. Don’t hate on the people who like useful things and are willing to pay for them. If you’re happy with not texting, going online, etc. then good for you. Leave everyone else alone.

      • italianscallion33 says:

        @kabuk1: No, it cost me $85 for one iPhone on AT&T. I didn’t use a lot of minutes, but when I added my mom on we had to up the minutes because she talks a lot more than I do.

        Also, do your parents have phones with data plans? Because it’s not much to add one or two phones to a family plan if they’re not smart phones/PDAs that require data plans.

    • Vanilla5 says:

      @sonneillon: I’ve had the iPhone since the very first day they came out (yes, I stood in line for over 12 hours) and I would have to seriously disagree with you there. I’m a tech/gadget junkie and will routinely play with other peoples’ phones just to see how they work, test the UI, etc. At the end of the day, I always say I’m leaps and bounds happier with my iPhone than any other phone out there.

      I’m also an Apple fangirl and would never go back to a PC – ever. These are just my opinions and have nothing to do with status or insecurity. I’m also 25, single, no kids, and have a career, so I can afford it.

      • Honus says:


        I’m also an iPhone user. I’m only envious of TMobile and Sprint for their cheap data. Everywhere I seem to go, their network seems to be a few miles in another direction.

        I used to have a Nokia smartphone and I liked it because the s60 community had some programs up for download, but they were rarely as useful as the apps on the iphone. Writing apps for the iphone is probably too easy, because there are probably on the order of 300 various fart-sound applications (which you can actually pay for if you really hate money). But to use that as a positive, if there are 300 fart applications, there’s a pool of really solid applications out there.

        I know many of my medical applications (even the freebies) are extremely useful and are not available anywhere else.

        And of course, if you jailbreak it then it’s an open platform for all kinds of new and useful functionality. I’m not an Apple fan – I don’t own any Apple computers – but I like my phone and what I can do with it.

        • Vanilla5 says:

          @Honus: Yeah, the price is higher than almost any other carrier (depending on what kind of data/voice plans you’re using) and that can be frustrating. Also agree on the App Store being much more versatile than many other app stores.

          @theblackdog: I’m not from a city that has an extensive underground subway/light rail system so I can’t say that I’m familiar with the inconveniences of data blackout in tunnels. While I would think that it would be a given that you simply can’t use your phone underground until you emerge back into the light, I can see how it would be super inconveniencing if you had a long commute every day – especially if it is an issue that can be fixed.

          • theblackdog says:

            @Vanilla5: It will be fixed eventually, the catch was Verizon had the advantage of getting there first as they built the infrastructure in the tunnels, so they have been the exclusive provider. However, their contract has expired now so DC Metro has made them open it up so that all providers can put in their equipment down there.

        • Chris Walters says:

          @Honus: Your first two paragraphs pretty much describe my experience. I was a stalwart Nokia defender through a 6682, N95, N82, and 5800 (+ a 770 Internet Tablet running Maemo) convinced Nokia would see its way through the aging S60 OSes and trump Apple’s UI with some crazy-ass haptics or something. Instead, they slip more and more into UI irrelevance. The N97 just makes me sad. The “new” app store they launched makes me angry, it’s been so mismanaged (talk about screwing over your developer base).

          The explosion in the iPhone app store over the past year sealed the deal for me–all the innovation is happening on the iPhone right now, it’s the place to be.

          N95 will always be my first love, but Nokia’s N-Gage can’t hold a tenth of a candle to what iPhone is doing as a gaming platform.

          I think people who resort to status symbol arguments don’t understand or care about mobile technology and what’s happening with mobile tech and UI. They see phones as fashion only. *shrug* I know why I own an iPhone and it’s not really about “identity.”

      • theblackdog says:

        @Vanilla5: I love the idea of the iPhone, but the one thing that stands in my way, AT&T. I refuse to get service with them especially because they have one big dead zone that will not be fixed until 2011, DC Metro subway tunnels.

    • Munchie says:

      @sonneillon: I’m getting very tired of people spouting the iphone is not all that. Over half of all web traffic is from iphones the next closest competitor has less that 25% and thats blackberry. So is it perfect, no but its far better than any other competitor.

      • Skin Art Squared says:

        @Munchie: I totally agree. The iPhone is definitely overhyped, overpriced, non-essential technojunk. Cruising websites on a three inch screen is just stupid.

    • italianscallion33 says:

      @sonneillon: I highly disagree. iPhone apps (selection, quality, and price, usually) are unparalleled. Also, the interfact is much more pleasant and user-friendly than something like a Blackberry.

    • sonneillon says:

      @sonneillon: So several of you are saying that the apps are the reason for your iPhone. Which is valid but is it worth the 20-40 dollars for the privilege of paying for more apps. I can pay for those apps on my laptop and do everything better faster and cheaper more completely with that and a tethered cell phone.

  11. consumerd says:

    it’s not a horrible idea, as it is a way to secure the phone. As an ebay buyer once I got screwed out of a product I bought from ebay because the seller made up a tracking number and a fake address for me.

    Paypal bought it, hook line and sinker. I was out $20 for something that “shipped” to my house but never arrived.

    • nuton2wheels says:

      @consumerdave: Ouch. As a rule of thumb I always use credit cards when dealing with Paypal, and not the bank account option. That way you can pursue chargebacks and it only hurts Paypal, not you.

  12. wkm001 says:

    Some wireless carriers get real nasty. You have to specify you want to cancel at the end of the billing cycle. Otherwise, they charge you a per minute rate on all of your used minutes. US Cellular was real bad about this, not sure if this is still their policy.

  13. sharkzfanz says:

    Seems reasonable to me… It’s not a bad request you can fax in proof or go to ATT store which if you have an Apple store you will have an ATT store..

  14. West Coast Secessionist says:

    What the F**K? Does this mean you can’t cancel the service, pay the $175 ETF, and KEEP the phone? I thought the options were A. ETF or B. Return the phone.

    • Geekybiker says:

      @West Coast Secessionist:

      Those are exactly your options. You can always keep the phone and eat the ETF. If you don’t want to pay the ETF, we have the scenario here where ATT wants to make sure they got their phone back before they cancel the contract.

  15. eddieck says:

    AT&T tried to pull this on me with the original iPhone, which, as you may remember, was unsubsidized. I tried their service and cancelled (within 30 days) because the coverage was not up to par in my area. They sent me a bill for the termination fee, plus the entire month, activation fee, etc. I called them and they told me I had to return the phone too, to which I pointed out I owned the phone because it was unsubsidized. They didn’t care.

    I didn’t pay it, and eventually, after several threats of it going to collections, got them to zero it out. I wouldn’t have paid had it gone to collections. I don’t pay things I don’t agree with.

  16. ageshin says:

    I’m a bit confused. When one ‘buys’ something one then owns it. It becomes your property. The fact that a company subsidises part of the cost of the physical phone should not make any difference to your ownership rights. Now if they only lease the phone to you, then I can see them demanding the phone back if you end your service contract. All this just enforces my opinion that the i phone is a bad deal all around.

    • italianscallion33 says:

      @ageshin: The company subsidizing your phone is conditional on you using and paying for their service. It’s in the contract.

      This is not something that happens just with iPhones. If your phone is subsidized, then you need to return it (or pay the difference, I guess, if they let you do that), otherwise you basically scammed the company. 2 wrongs don’t make a right.

  17. John Forlizzi says:

    i went to get the iphone and they wanted a 500 deposit, so they wouldn’t sell me the iphone, then like 4 days later i get an email from At&t saying i have a 634 dollar balance…apparently they charged me the deposit without me signing any contract i had to go to apple cancel the service before at&t would clear the bill and apple sent them something saying i never purchased or activated an iphone….this is why At&t really sucks (the iphone is the best) but at&t are bastards