I received a piece of technology I didn't pay for!
August 7, 2014 9:10 PM   Subscribe

I pre-ordered a smartphone on announcement day back in March. Shortly after, I decided this particular smartphone wasn't going to be for me, and I cancelled my order and was promptly refunded. The phone just now became available and problem is, I received the phone on Monday.

I haven't opened the phone yet, thinking the company would realize their error and charge my card again, in which case I'd just return it. But that hasn't happened yet and I'm starting to doubt the possibility of that. I'm smartphone-less and was just planning on buying the new iPhone when I move abroad shortly, as I definitely need a smartphone rather than the basic phone I have now.

What should I do? I don't think it's immoral to keep the phone and use it, as it seems they really screwed up and haven't realized it. Is there a possible reason this could have happened? My order number for my original purchase was included on my initial shipping information from UPS. Is it possible their different departments didn't communicate or something?

It just seems very strange. I should add that this phone is GSM unlocked, so it's not like it's a Verizon model where the phone maker could just have it blocked already.
posted by signondiego to Technology (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't think it's immoral to keep the phone and use it

I do...if you didn't pay for it, it doesn't belong to you. If it was me, I would contact them and get a return label to ship it back.
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:12 PM on August 7, 2014 [16 favorites]

I don't think it's immoral to keep the phone and use it, as it seems they really screwed up and haven't realized it.

Of course its immoral. You didn't pay for it and it doesn't belong to you.

What should I do?

You should return the phone. Well, you should tell them you have it and they can provide a free shipping box. You shouldn't feel obligated to pay to return the phone but you should certainly feel obligated to ship it back if they pay for it.
posted by Justinian at 9:14 PM on August 7, 2014 [7 favorites]

I would call the company and ask them what they want you to do. They may tell you to keep it, but since it's a new item with pre-orders my guess is that they will want you to return it. It's fair to ask that they pay the shipping since it was their mistake in the first place.

I wouldn't recommend just keeping it, or trying to resell it. In addition to the ethical issue, eventually their billing records and shipping records will catch up with each other and they're going to want the pristine phone back, or the money. And they have your credit card #, so...
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:16 PM on August 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks. I wasn't suggesting that I was going to keep it, otherwise I would just have opened the box by now. The situation is just very odd to me, so I wasn't sure what would be ethical here and what the right procedure would be for returning it in this situation.
posted by signondiego at 9:19 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Knowing MeFi, everyone will tell you to return it. And they will be right, it's the right thing to do. But if you want to keep the phone, make sure you definitely canceled the order and there's a record of it. And then just keep it. If they try to charge you, tell them you had canceled the order, you have your confirmation number/proof of cancellation, and you never got a phone and you won't be charge for a phone you never got. If you're certain they can't track the phone being used (although I doubt they'd care), then they can't hold you accountable for a mistake they made. I mean, yes, the right thing to do is to call them, explain the situation and ask if they want you to return it, but they made the mistake, not you, so it's not like they can really accuse you of stealing. Also, I have to say my sympathy for Verizon accidentally sending out one smartphone is extremely small. If you ordered from a small retail store and not Verizon directly, I'd think about whether you want to do this to them.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:20 PM on August 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

Usually when Amazon miss ships you something, they tell you to keep it. Do you have a cancellation number? I would not be so sure they won't charge you. I would wait a few more days checking my statement. I would also call sometime next week and see what they want you to do with this opened item.
posted by 724A at 9:23 PM on August 7, 2014

Morally, I give you permission to keep the phone. I don't see anything problematic with ripping off a multinational technology conglomerate. Of course, you do have the environmental cost, and the human suffering in the labor supply chain on your conscience. So I say, weigh those issues, then decide.
posted by latkes at 9:30 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I recently ordered a $200 Airplay speaker from Amazon. When the box showed up it was heavier than I expected. I opened it and found out why: it contained 3 of the $200 speakers.

At first I was really excited. Wow, free swag! I give the other two away to my brothers and sisters. But then I realized I should really call the company (it didn't ship from Amazon, but directly from some other seller) and tell them about it. I held out a small hope that they'd just tell me to keep them.

But it wasn't to be. They thanked me and sent UPS to my house to pick up the two extra units. I still have the one I paid for, and it works great, and it felt like the right thing to do.
posted by alms at 9:39 PM on August 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

tell them you had canceled the order, you have your confirmation number/proof of cancellation, and you never got a phone

On a careful read, it looks like the asker did get a phone, though, so that would be more like an outright lie.

They should make the company pay for the return shipping.
posted by ftm at 9:43 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's immoral to keep the phone and use it, as it seems they really screwed up and haven't realized it.

That's an odd formulation and you should think about what you mean by it. I'm not really interested in telling an Internet stranger what is or isn't immoral, but why do you feel like the controlling factor in that analysis is whether someone screwed up and did or didn't realize it?
posted by cribcage at 9:43 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would make the least amount of effort to right the mistake, and then move on. I'm someone who has a hatred of dealing with customer service people on the phone, so I'd probably just try emailing. If they get back to me with pickup at a convenient time and free shipping, I'll follow through. Otherwise, I'm too busy to deal with it. I find this approach helps separate the items a company really wants back vs the ones that aren't a big loss for them.
posted by bluefly at 10:12 PM on August 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's immoral to keep the phone and use it

Imagine the opposite scenario: you cancelled the order, received no phone, and were charged anyway, and didn't notice the money gone until after you'd moved abroad. And since you didn't seem to notice, the company thought it would be okay to keep your money.

Return it.
posted by elizardbits at 10:37 PM on August 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would return it, but I wouldn't go to any huge amount of effort or any cost to myself to do so, since it's their screw-up. I would let them know (by whatever method is more convenient to you - email or phone) what happened, and then I would wait for them to tell you what to do. If it requires you to pay postage, go to the post office, or package the box in any way, or if it requires you to alter your work day to make sure you are home for the UPS guy or whatever, I would tell them that isn't possible. They should be able to send someone at a time convenient to you to pick up the phone without you doing anything further. If they don't want to go to that much effort, I imagine they might tell you to just keep it.

(I have always been told to just keep items that were shipped to me by mistake from overseas, as I am in Australia and return shipping is expensive. But presumably they are only dealing with local shipping costs here, and the most expensive item I've got to keep this way was only worth $120, which your mobile is presumably more than.)
posted by lollusc at 11:26 PM on August 7, 2014

I would simply call and ask. They may not care but if the item is expensive and in demand enough they may care enough to pay for return shipping. But you should give the decision to them. I don't think it's okay to act like you don't know what's going on. Whatever they decide, you don't lose.
posted by Aranquis at 4:50 AM on August 8, 2014

You should call them and ask them what they want you to do. They will probably say, here is a prepaid shipping label, please send it back to us.

Putting aside ethical questions, I wouldn't be so sure they won't later realize what happened and try to charge you.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:29 AM on August 8, 2014

I agree with the consensus--ethically, you're obligated to inform them you've received the item and offer to return it at their expense.

Legally, though, you may be in the clear. If the item had been shipped by the USPS, having been unsolicited, it wuld be illegal for the seller to bill you for it. IANAL, but it doesn't appear to apply to things shipped by other carriers like UPS/FedEx, but you should check if your state has any additional legal protection for this.
posted by yuwtze at 6:54 AM on August 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is this a Fairphone? If so I think you should let them know you have it and see what they suggest. A Samsung from Verizon? Maybe you don't need to mention it.
posted by Iteki at 7:08 AM on August 8, 2014

If I hung on to it, I'd feel guilty every single time I used my shiny new phone for the rest of forever. ymmv.
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:25 AM on August 8, 2014

I was going to post what yuwtze said - there might be a complication since you initially did try to order. Legally, you might be in the right to keep it.

Morally is a bit more of a grey issue. This is the sort of thing where if I needed a phone, and one fell in my lap like this, I'd keep it. But if my kids saw me receive the package, and we talked about how I hadn't ordered this, I'd make minimal effort to return it - I.E. call the seller, and offer to return it if they pay for shipping/mailer. I absolutely would not spend anything to return this.

Actually regarding the needing a phone and one falls in my lap; a lot of that would depend upon who the seller was. Large carrier; I'd keep it. Large, international manufacturer; I'd keep it. Amazon; I'd keep it (and they'd likely tell me to keep it based upon past experiences). Bob's local electronics emporium; self owned and fighting the big box stores - I'd make minimal efforts to return it; even if my kids' weren't aware of my having received it.
posted by nobeagle at 7:45 AM on August 8, 2014

Seconding yuwtze. The sending of unsolicited merchandise used to be a common scam and anti-competitive tactic until they made it illegal in Canada in the same way it's illegal in the US. I might feel guilty about not returning it to some mom and pop shop where I was certain their was no intent to deceive but not some large corporation who have people who should be on top of this kind of thing.
posted by Mitheral at 10:05 AM on August 8, 2014

I'd keep it. They sent you a phone and didn't charge you for it. Their fault, but they basically gave it to you. And to these companies phones are basically disposable. But I think there's a strong likelihood they'll realize their mistake and charge you at some point. So I'd contact them about it if you don't want to possibly have to pay for the phone.
posted by catatethebird at 10:41 AM on August 8, 2014

About 15 years ago, I ordered a CD burner from Sony that hadn't been released yet on a trial basis. The agreement was I was to try it out for 30 days, return it if I didn't like it, and if I kept it my credit card would be charged $200. They had my credit card number.

I kept it. I told them I was going to keep it. They said OK we will charge your credit card. They never did, and never came after me for the money.

The computer I installed it in has since been recycled.

You have a cancellation of the order, and proof of cancellation. However, it's a cell phone, which, unlike a CD burner, has a SIM card and an IMEI number and all sorts of ways for either the cellular service provider or phone manufacturer to know when you've used it. So, as soon as you use it, they might charge you for it -- even though it was their mistake, i.e. you cancelled the order and they shipped it to you anyway.

I'd say you should return it, providing your cancellation number. It's reasonable to ask them to pay for the return shipping.
posted by tckma at 11:32 AM on August 8, 2014

The worst case scenario is that they still have your payment information on file, discover that they sent a phone to you, and decide to charge you for it, in spite of your cancellation. If you're not okay with this scenario, then I'd make sure that they 1) have your cancellation on file and 2) let them know that they miss-shipped the item, and ask them what to do about that.
posted by Aleyn at 2:01 PM on August 8, 2014

Same thing happened to me once. Tried to talk to the vendor, and it became a pain because of bureaucracy. So I gave it to someone who needed it. @ 75US in value, so maybe I'll go to hell for one of my other misdeeds.
posted by theora55 at 5:49 PM on August 8, 2014

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