I recently purchased an HTC Touch smartphone from an eBay seller to replace my BlackBerry Curve. The seller had 100% positive feedback and had good feedback on similar phone sales in the past. I figured I couldn’t go wrong and started bidding. After communicating with the seller, I pushed ahead with taking his “Buy It Now” price of $199 + S/H which was one of the cheaper auctions on at that time, but certainly not the lowest price. He confirmed with me before I won the auction that the ESN was clear and the phone was only 4 months old.
I paid for overnight shipping and what arrived was a nightmare.
The phone came in great condition with a screen protector, nice holster, and a house charger. Phone was almost fully charged when I powered it on and everything looked great — it was even upgraded with the latest version of Windows Mobile. If this phone was used for more than 4 months I’d be surprised.
I called Alltel/Verizon and went to activate it. “We’re sorry but the account this phone is on has an outstanding balance.” What the hell? It appears this guy got the phone discounts and bailed on his contract. Not only is it on someone else’s account but that account has been closed due to unpaid bills. Just great! Usually when someone defaults on a wireless contract it’s not over some small amount like $20. I figured he probably owed hundreds of dollars but still asked the rep. if I could pay whatever balance that’s owed. Nope. I can’t pay it, find out how much it is, or anything. Only the account holder can call in and I can’t even get their name to see if that’s my eBay seller.
I got on the hook with the seller on eBay and went as far as threating small claims court. I was furious and without a phone. He ended up settling on a partial refund which was $50 short of what I paid. After picking through his auction with a fine tooth comb, it turns out while the phone is only 4 months old, he never claims it can be activated and guarantees absolutely nothing. Shady business considering that this phone with a bad ESN would’ve fetched about $50 instead of $200.
Now, there are ways to activate this phone — by “flashing” or upgrading the phone’s software to another carrier, such as Sprint or possibly hack it up to work on some pre-paid deal. You could even change the phone’s ESN to a different phone and put it back on the carrier but that’s highly illegal and against FCC rules since 1998.
The seller hasn’t said anything since I accepted his partial refund, but he’s sure as hell not getting his paper weight back. I’m going to keep it around — probably sell it for parts and try to recover the $50 I’m out of. On a positive note I bought another, identical HTC Touch from a different seller, in the same almost new condition with an ESN I verified with Alltel as clear to activate. FedEx should be delivering my new phone in the next 2-3 days. Lesson learned here — if for any reason the seller of your next cell phone is unable to provide you with the internal details you need, such as the ESN or serial number, or any identifying information: fuck ‘em or else you’ll end up fucking yourself.