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Posted on March 6th, 2012 by Nicole Kobie

Apple replaces broken iPhones – even if they’re stolen


There’s nothing worse than having your phone stolen: your contacts, photos, data, all in someone else’s hands. It’s especially bad if it’s a high-end smartphone, and even worse if it’s an iPhone — and not only because the handsets are so expensive.

Last week, PC Pro reader Simon wrote to us, explaining that his daughter Charlie’s phone had been stolen three months ago. Since then, she’s been locked in a battle with her insurance company to get a replacement. That firm, Protect My Bubble, has refused to pay out because Apple has already replaced the phone, with the identifying number (IMEI)  for the stolen device showing on the system as being “replaced”.

That’s because the stolen iPhone 4 has indeed been replaced — but it wasn’t given to Charlie. Three days after her phone was taken, someone — presumably the thief — took it to the Covent Garden Apple Store, saying it didn’t work. As it was still under warranty, Apple’s staff duly handed over a new phone. While that’s excellent service for those with a cracked screen or malfunctioning handset, it’s not so clever when the reason the phone isn’t working is because it has been reported stolen and blocked.

Is anyone surprised that iPhone theft is so rampant when you are guaranteed to get a new one just by walking into an Apple store with your stolen, IMEI-blocked phone?

As Simon noted: “Apple replaced the phone even though it had been reported stolen and even though the person with the phone was not the registered owner. Apple has stated that it is its policy to replace iPhones if they are in warranty without questioning the identity or authenticity of ownership of the person with the phone. It even confirmed the exact time and date of the replacement and the identity of the Apple staff member who gave the replacement.

“Is anyone surprised that iPhone theft is so rampant when you are guaranteed to get a new one just by walking into an Apple store with your stolen, IMEI-blocked phone?”

The family has had no luck getting a replacement phone, or getting enough detail out of Apple to convince her insurance company it should pay out, leaving Charlie without a phone — despite her very responsibly paying for insurance and reporting the theft immediately to the police and to Apple.

The Covent Garden store did meet with Charlie, but didn’t manage to find a resolution. “We discussed what had happened at length and after I pointed out that I had informed them it had been stolen the day after the crime — and two days before it had replaced the stolen phone — it did actually admit that ‘yes, in this case it does seem that this was our fault’,” she noted.

And, as Simon points out, it leaves Apple holding Charlie’s original phone, which is stolen property. “At no point did it become Scumbag Thief’s phone and at no point did it become Apple’s property,” he points out. “The fact that Apple gave Scumbag a new phone for it is immaterial, it is still your property and you have every right to have it returned to you.”

In a series of emails to Apple representatives — all of which have gone unanswered — Simon noted that a quick search revealed 470 new, unlocked iPhone 4 handsets for sale on eBay. “No doubt a fair number of these were free from your stores,” he says.

This problem isn’t new: reports abound online stretching back years, but Apple has refused to change its policy and is yet to return request for comment from PC Pro. (Update: We’ve since heard back from Apple, which stressed it couldn’t comment on individual cases.)

It’s a shame that Apple’s trust in customers and solid service is being abused, but it’s hardly a surprise. We can’t sum it up any better than Simon, in an email to Apple we were shown: “I wonder just how much your mad policy is costing you, let alone your customers?”

Update: A day after this blog was posted, Apple contacted Simon and Charlie and will be replacing the missing handset with a new iPhone 4s.

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43 Responses to “ Apple replaces broken iPhones – even if they’re stolen ”

  1. Alan Wood Says:
    March 6th, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Bring charges against the shop staff for being accessories to the crime. They knew the phone was stolen, yet swapped it anyway.

  2. dubiou Says:
    March 6th, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Apple should be forced to return what are stolen goods. This should in turn persuade them to be a bit more cautious in handing replacements out. Which should in turn reduce the appeal of iPhones as targets.
    No surprise about an insurance company taking money but doing everything in their power not to pay out under valid conditions – I’m pretty sure that’s the business model.

  3. philip Says:
    March 6th, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Not sure I blame the insurance company – if the system is listing the phone as “replaced”, they will assume it’s the owner of the phone who has been given the replacement, and therefore the payout isn’t required. Their reasoning is that no company should be so stupid as to not verify the identity of a phone’s owner before handing out a new phone…surely…?

  4. Mark Stewart Says:
    March 6th, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Apple are clearly “receiving stolen goods” which is a crime. It does make one wonder what is so special about Apple that they seem to be immune to the law.

    It is also tantamount to money laundering – exchange stolen blocked phone for legitimate legal phone.

    Apple have admitted they are in the wrong, surely they should just hand the phone back to it’s rightful owner or be prosecuted for receiving / harbouring stolen goods.

    The insurance company are quite right not to pay out as they are not liable as Apple is in possession of the stolen phone.

  5. MJ Says:
    March 6th, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    So, Apple have possession of the stolen phone. IIRC, if you buy a car that turns out to be stolen, it is given back to the owner and that’s tough on the unfortunate buyer. So, how come Apple don’t have to give back that stolen phone? Quite obviously they should. If they’ve destroyed it or something, then they should supply another. I hope the UK courts would look on this sensibly.

  6. Richard Says:
    March 6th, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    First off I feel sorry for Simon and his daughter. And I couldn’t help wondering if the Apple store has CCTV couldn’t this help identify the thief? But I agree with Alan Wood (sort of), report it again as stolen and in the possesion of the Apple store but I wouldn’t try and victimise the staff as accessories. Hang on, what am I saying, the staff should of course be reported not as accessories but for selling vastly over-priced gadgets!! ;-) )

  7. JohnAHind Says:
    March 6th, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    I’m no lawyer, but the situation seems quite clear and I do not see the problem – report Apple to the police for knowingly receiving stolen goods. When you have the broken iPhone back from Apple, march straight into the shop with it and demand they replace it with a good one under their publicly stated no-questions-asked policy!

    Or maybe PCPro could round up some fellow journalists and go with Charlie to the store and make a very public citizen’s arrest of the already identified Apple employee – that ought to get their attention!

  8. Clive Pugh Says:
    March 6th, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    another way is to stop buying iphones Apple would soon take notice when their sales plummet

  9. audiolab Says:
    March 6th, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    I have thought badly of Apple for many years, if I had known of this Robin Hood policy. Maybe my thoughts would have been different !!

  10. Mark Stewart Says:
    March 6th, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    JohnAHind: The iPhone isn’t actually faulty, it was taken into the Apple Store as not working by the “thief” as it had been reported stolen and IMEI locked by the provider!

  11. Martin Says:
    March 6th, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    Did the thief steal Charlie’s receipt too, or do Apple not ask for that simple proof of ownership and guarantee start date like most shops?

  12. Mark Thompson Says:
    March 6th, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    Hang on, so Apple will gladly hand out free iPhones to all and sundry, but don’t have the common sense to hand out an extra one to these poor chaps *even after a call from a journalist*? I thought they were meant to be good at all that PR stuff?

  13. Phil Says:
    March 6th, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Regardless of Apples part in it, the insurnace company has a contract with Charlie and if she has suffered and insured loss they are responsible for restoring her to her previous financial position.

    The insurance company is regulated by the FSA which means there is a complaints process to go through with an Ombudsman service. It might take some time but it might avoid costly legal fees. If Apple are responsible it is the insurance companies responsibility to recover their loss themselves.

  14. Saqib Says:
    March 6th, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    Seems simple. Send apple a letter asking for your property back, inform the police that apple have your stolen phone and that is it your property. Don’t take a no for a answer from the police. Get the investigating officers number and have them follow it up.


  15. Saqib Says:
    March 6th, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    @Martin, apple do not ask for receipts as proof of warranty as they know if the phone is in warranty as a brand new iPhone needs to be activated first, I.e registered with apple as now being used.
    Reciept is only good if for some reason they have the warranty expire date wrong.

  16. Connor Stuart Says:
    March 6th, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Apple have messed up here big time. Does make me kind of worried about my iPhone, but I know the law and I am not afraid to contact the police if this happens to me.

    I suppose Apple’s thinking that if they do this, then it gives owners a soft of free theft insurance. But if they change the system and make refund/replacements harder, then that’s also bad. How about they just run all IMEIs through the stolen DB before they return them – I’m sure that would satisfy the law in terms of being reasonably sure it isn’t stolen property.

  17. simbr Says:
    March 7th, 2012 at 11:40 am

    If you have an apple device just go to and enter the S/N – it will tell you what model it is, the IMEI (if applicable) and when the warranty expires and that is all Apple need to check. It will also show here whether then item has been replaced previously.
    They wouldn’t replace for a cracked screen like the article says, at least not under warranty.

  18. JohnAHind Says:
    March 7th, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    @Mark Stewart:
    I assumed that the thief had deliberately broken the phone in order to trick Apple into replacing it with an unlocked one. If the only reason it was not working was it was locked (by them) then they are even stupider than I had previously credited! Are not these people supposed to be geniuses?

  19. Mr Motivator Says:
    March 7th, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Apple are trying to give a second to none service where their genuine customers receive a fantastic service like no other. Is it there fault that there is so much dishonesty in society? They are just running a business off of an idealogly. Not sure if I blame them… Also the insurance company have a crime number… what else do they need, also how can they cross reference Apple’s internal exchanges system? Something doesn’t add up in this story.

  20. Paul C Says:
    March 8th, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    Perhaps Apple do not wish to risk their staff being threatened or assaulted if they accuse a customer of bringing in a stolen phone.

  21. Person Says:
    March 16th, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    FYI – If a phone is blocked by the phone company after it is stolen, the block will transfer to the replacement phone.

  22. moin Says:
    May 4th, 2012 at 10:34 am

    i just bought the iphone from third party i have register my imie number to apple and service provider after week my phone was black listed i have called to service provider they says this phone is stolen or lost so it has been black listed by insurance company i have talk to apple about this they say we haven’t block it. i went to police station they took my phone and they say they will investigate but now one month past still i waiting. here no one help you out even you give them evidence.

  23. Anna Says:
    May 7th, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    The same thing that happened to Simon and Charlie has happened to me. Let’s hope I have more luck in getting a response from Apple! Apple really need to reconsider their policies!

  24. Mike Says:
    June 30th, 2012 at 9:44 am

    I find this quite hard to believe as Apple’s aftercare and genius bar are excellent and when I went there with a problem with my iPhone they check that the serial number was linked to my details.

    I can only come to the conclusion that the person who served this thief either didn’t follow standard protocol or they know the thief..!!

  25. daryll Says:
    July 12th, 2012 at 12:40 am

    So when they take the stolen phone into apple and get a replacement one do they then block the replacement phone one they have realised whats happend or do they just leave it ?

  26. darren shakespeare Says:
    July 20th, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    That kind of ignorance from Apple has surely got to be illeagal??

  27. DavyP Says:
    August 31st, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Seeing this article has put me right off buying an Apple product ever again.

  28. Nytes Says:
    September 1st, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    HAHA, Thats why you dont leave ur phone in dumbass places. People are idiots sometimes. I found an iPhone and Apple replaced it for me

  29. lucky 7 Says:
    September 1st, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    Apple rules. I dont blame them for not giving them a phone. If they did that then over 2000 people would be getting new phones and they would lose alot of money. Just keep better track of your phone.

  30. cz9313 Says:
    November 11th, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    This is stupid – why would u go after apple when clearly it is the insurance company that is at fault here? An apple staff will not be able to know whether the phone presented to him was stolen or not – cos he or she is carrying out a repair service, not a crime investigation, and as far as this is concerned, if there is a faulty phone, we go replace it – simple as that. insurance company on the other hand – if you have an insurable cause, they are obliged to give you a compensation, UNLESS you could have it replaced somewhere else. Since it the event at Apple store happened after she reported her phone as being lost, it can easily be established that it was someone else who was in possession of the phone that requested the replacement and that she has not yet recovered her phone. Therefore they should give her a replacement phone – simple.

  31. Kelly gothard Says:
    November 29th, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    Exactly the same is happening to me! A thief stole my phone which I reported as stolen and the handset was barred, but the thief or whoever they had sold it to took it to Apple Bullring and they checked the serial number and said year it’s in warranty here is a new phone! It his is costing more than £1000 over the 24 month contract I have with 02! Apple have my phone and I want it back! Apple bullring said he can’t help me And there is no head office!!!!!! At an anyone help? Major floor here is apples company policy!!!!

  32. Kelly gothard Says:
    November 29th, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    Apple are top of their game in technology!!!! How could they not see it was stolen and actually say oh yes there is a Barr on it as its reported stolen!!

  33. Avy Says:
    February 3rd, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    I am in the exact same situation i will be going into apple store tomorrow to see wether i can have my iphone off them, as it is my property.

  34. Avy Says:
    February 3rd, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    Did you have any luck gettin your phone back kelly? I am on a 24 month contract too costing me a fortune! While some muppet has a brand new iphone 5 at my expense thanks to apple!

  35. yeti Says:
    February 9th, 2013 at 12:35 am

    Ridiculous I both work in a mobile repair center and repair and refurbish phones as a side business, If I was found to resell and/exhange stolen phones i’d be hammered I think the phrase ‘unless every due diligence is taken’, checking imei status takes less than 5 mins what a joke

  36. Laura Says:
    March 18th, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    Very disappointing as my son’s iphone 5 was also stolen. On purchasing the phone I had to prove my identity to enter into a contract. To Apple; I an Apple customer would have no problem proving my identity to obtain a lawful replacement handset. You should acknowledge your social responsibility to your customers. To the person whose daughter’s stolen phone ended up in the Apple store. If you can prove proof of ownership, then case law would apply – Morrison v Robertson (1908 SC 332) is a case establishing the common law principles that govern unilateral error. It was held that there had been no contract between Morrison and Telford. The purported transaction was a complete nullity. Accordingly, Telford had no rights which he could pass on to Robertson, so Morrison was entitled to recover his property. Meaning there was no contract between Apple and the thief, the contract being between Apple and the lawful owner and therefore Apple woud have to hand back the property to the lawful owner.

  37. Abbie Williamson Says:
    May 5th, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    I recently had my iphone 5 stolen and apple store in Sheffield has done the bang same! now i am stuck paying for some disgusting scumbag to have my iphone. i am wanting to take apple to court for this and i am just rsearching on the matter. so glad ive come across this!

  38. Shareen Says:
    May 28th, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Same thing has also happened to me. My iPhone 5, 32 gb was stolen from my handbag at oxford circus station. I checked my imei number and it has been replaced. I have let the police know but I doubt anything will come from it. Apple’s policy is ridiculous!

  39. Diego Says:
    July 23rd, 2013 at 9:54 am

    I am in the same situation. My stolen Iphone was replaced at the Apple Store – how can I have it back? Please help!

  40. Megan Says:
    September 27th, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    Apple policy is to support the device and not the person. I work for Apple, so I know. Apple has a strict policy to not note in the case notes the word stolen so it can help protect them from being sued. Apple sucks and I am looking for a better job! Did you know if you have you device replaced two times, the third time they are required to give you a BRAND NEW device. I would tell them the power button sticks sometimes and demand a replacement or use some other thing they have trouble proving. Did you know if you threaten to sue them when you call in they will usually do whatever you ask, even giving you a replacement device if your screen is cracked or has water damage and you do not have Apple Care Plus?

  41. Johnny Says:
    October 7th, 2013 at 1:39 am

    How does apple know it wasn’t the family how is actually lying and now they have 2 working iPhones! Think about it, fist one was replaced, then apple sends her a new one after reading the article!
    Though the string of unhappiness could actually stop at apple, I understand their policy. They have THE best warranty replacement program I have ever experienced! Something goes wrong with my device I simply go in, they determine what’s wrong and replace it it needed. No hassle for me. I love that. Everyone here talking about apple change this, apple change that. Then what, affect actual legetimate customers!
    It’s not everyday thieves do this at apple. For them to change the program over a few “bad apples” would devastate everyone else.

  42. Gwynn Says:
    April 16th, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    My husband and I have a joint account but have been separated since November 2013. I started a transfer of service for my iPhone 4S and then my husband reported my iphone as stolen. So it was cut off and blacklisted. I have the proof the phone was purchased by my company under my name from Fry’s and shows I activated it under AT&T the same day it was purchased. Again… MY NAME. MY COMPANY CARD with MY NAME. RECEIPT with matching IMEI number in MY NAME. Despite the fact the IMEI number on the receipt and the iPhone matches and despite that the receipt shows I personally activated it on AT&T, they absolutely refuse to unblacklist the phone. Effectively allowing my husband to steal property that does not belong to him while telling me they can’t do anything about it.

    This is supposed to be a feature that protects people from REAL theives… but it is actually allowing someone to steal from me and AT&T just shrugs and says “oh, well”?!?!?! So, not only did they used to benefit financially from stolen phones (check for the lawsuit), they now make it legal for the morally inept to steal your phone. That is what I call customer care.

    I have been an AT&T customer for almost 10 years. After this, I will never use AT&T again unless they do the right thing.

  43. Phoebe Says:
    May 4th, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    Hi I was in town on my iPhone 5c and a shoplifter ran by me being chased to which he full force banged in to me knocking me and my phone flying I was ok but my screen cracked Iam on contract and don’t have apple insurance cover plus but it’s still under warrenty will they replace or will they say its accidental even though if wasn’t caused by me need help has can’t see my display screen x


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