What do I do with an unactivated iPhone 7 that was mistakenly acquired?
September 22, 2019 5:06 PM   Subscribe

After moving into a new rental house we received some mail for previous occupants. One item was a box, within another box, that eventually was discovered to contain a new iPhone, but by this time the outer box and name of recipient was lost. What do I do with it?

We came into the possession of the package more than 2 years ago, and had it for close to a year before learning the contents. I am a disorganized and procrastinating person and often fail to keep track of my own mail and bill correspondence and do even worse with erroneously received mail with other folks' names on it.

I guess if there was an original moral failing it was the failure to return the package initially, but I cannot fix that now. There was nothing to indicate on the outside of the package that it was anything valuable, and I guess I couldn't imagine that if it was something valuable the former occupant wouldn't come back and retrieve it, so I didn't have the feeling it was anything important. My impression was it was some sort of junk mail meant to entice you into subscribing to or buying something like those letters you receive that have a juicy new credit card in them for bait.

After many months of this box sitting on our shelf along with other pieces of other people's mail we decided to get rid of it, but before doing so opened the box to see what was in it. And inside the box...was another, smaller box. This box had no writing on it or any other indicator of its contents.

I still didn't think it could be anything very valuable, but also still didn't feel like it belonged to me, so I did not open the inner box, and just put it back on the shelf. At this point the outer box with the name of the recipient was thrown away.

The small box sat again on the shelf for months. At some point I realized that I still had this box and now had no way to know who to return it to, and finally opened it--a shiny new iPhone 7 was inside.

It's been over a year since that, and I still have it. I don't know how to activate it, or if it's possible, or if I tried I don't know if it would pop up stolen and the phone police would come to my house. In fact today I just purchased a whole other new phone and plan because mine is nearly broken.

Is it a windfall? If so, how do I use it? Or do I return it and to whom? Clearly no one is trying to recover it. What would you do?
posted by TheRedArmy to Human Relations (19 answers total)
This... Is not a windfall, I mean come on. You opened two boxes of mail that didn't belong to you.

The right thing to do is contact the landlord and say you got something for a previous tenant and would like to return it, did they leave a forwarding address? Though it's probably way, way too late for that.

On a personal level I couldn't bring myself to keep a phone gained from such dubious means.
posted by smoke at 5:16 PM on September 22, 2019 [27 favorites]

I agree with smoke. There are a whole lot of excuses being made in your post about which I am dubious, but the bottom line is you kept someone else’s mail and opened it. Tell the landlord you have something that belongs to the prior tenant, and ask for a forwarding address.
posted by amro at 5:21 PM on September 22, 2019 [10 favorites]

Apple would know who ordered it originally and they probably have the IMEI noted as lost or stolen in their database. They might just know the vendor who bought it and then sent it to the previous tenant. I'd be inclined to bring it in to an Apple store and tell them it was left behind.
posted by soelo at 5:21 PM on September 22, 2019 [19 favorites]

I’m with everyone else. It seems like there is an awful lot of “help me justify keeping this phone which I know is not mine and I know I should not keep” in the question. Make as much or as little effort as you want to, to find out who it belongs to, but if nothing else, donate it to a worthy cause. Unopened (if you haven’t already cracked open the product packaging).
posted by mammoth at 5:25 PM on September 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

For future reference, all you have to do is write "Return to Sender" on any such mail or package, and put it back into the postal system (in the mailbox, at the post office, etc). Easy peasy.
posted by dum spiro spero at 6:16 PM on September 22, 2019 [18 favorites]

Soo... someone left something on your property without your permission. Years went by and they made no effort to reclaim it. You are clearly asking for opinions, and my personal opinion is that you can dispose of it as you please.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:27 PM on September 22, 2019 [10 favorites]

Having ADHD has cost me literally tens of thousands of dollars over the years and it’s not because I’m a shitty human being. It’s because I am massively disorganized through no fault of my own. This is not to say anything about the OP’s brain situation but simply to note that I can relate.

I did not know I could simply write “return to sender” on the package to get rid of something that does not belong to me, so thank you for that tip. I agree with smoke’s suggestion about how to respond to the situation.

But I’m also pretty sure that the original poster is feeling plenty bad about this already without other people piling on to suggest that this person is attempting to unjustly benefit from an uncomfortable situation that I’m pretty sure the OP is not happy about.

Maybe stop piling on the judgment and offer neutral advice? Lots of us do not need outside help in order to feel terrible about ourselves, thank you.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:33 PM on September 22, 2019 [46 favorites]

I would reach out to the landlords and see if they have any forwarding information for the previous tenants. It might be out of date and it'll take some effort, but spending the time following up on this is the best way to make it right.

If you can't find them that way, or by making a good faith effort at seeking them out by name online, then I would try to find out if there's a way to track them through Apple (have no idea how to do this), and if not that, only then would I donate it to a good cause.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:58 PM on September 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

The landlord probably has the person's phone number, even if they don't have a forwarding address.
posted by pinochiette at 7:05 PM on September 22, 2019

I would DM the @Applesupport twitter account and say you have an iphone 7 that was sent to your house after the previous tenants left in 2017. Ask if it's possible to get the phone back to them and that you don't have the name and address of those tenants.
posted by foxjacket at 7:07 PM on September 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think you should check the law in your area. In mine it’s not legal to open mail addressed to others. It’s also not legal to throw it out. So now you have a quandary.

I’d take it to Apple, explain you found it in your house and it must have belonged to a previous tenant.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:07 PM on September 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to those of you who could spare a microgram of empathy. Donating it sounds like a great idea. To the rest, I guess I hope you never end up in a peculiar situation that you are unsure about and receive an unpleasant scolding.
posted by TheRedArmy at 9:45 PM on September 22, 2019 [15 favorites]

I don't know whether this concern would apply to that particular electronic, but once a donor gave the nonprofit I worked for a new, unopened Fire tablet, and it turned out that Amazon had been so tremendously helpful as to pre-link it to their account in some non-obvious way that gave the eventual recipient the ability to make purchases on the donor's credit card. The recipient would have had absolutely no other way to know who the donor was, let alone get into their account. I fully acknowledge that Apple is not Amazon and a phone is not a tablet, but I'd suggest affirmatively ruling that sort of thing out as a possibility before you give it away.
posted by teremala at 10:17 PM on September 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I can totally see myself being in your position and I would assume that whoever initially ordered it would, by now, have followed up with the sender, it would have been marked as lost in transit and resent. Companies who mail stuff know a certain proportion goes missing.

FWIW, less valuable and on a shorter timescale, but a while ago I took a package in for a neighbour. Couldn’t work out why they never came round for it, I knocked for them a few times and there was nobody home. Eventually, I took a closer look and realised it had been misdelivered, was for a different address a few streets away. It was moderately bulky (bespoke dried dog food) and I don’t have a car, so I just told the company I had it (their name was on the outer packaging) and they told me to donate it to a local dog shelter. So yeah, misdeliveries happen, you’re not an evil thief, make some attempt to trace the owner through your landlord and/or Apple, especially since it’s the kind of item that might be traceable back to its rightful owner so there’s some hope of reconnecting them.
posted by penguin pie at 2:30 AM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you live in the U.S., opening someone's mail is a felony (with a potential $250,000 fine and five years in prison). Taking someone's mail is also a felony, whether you throw it out/recycle it/donate it. If this came by FedEx or something, it would still be theft.

Forgetting about the box is one thing, but opening it up and not trying to return it now is another- if people seem critical here, it might be because you come across as a little blase about what you did (and passive, saying you "ended up in a peculiar situation"). I think you should still try to return it, but tread carefully. I hesitate to suggest it, but maybe you could say that the label was too faded to read and that's why you opened it. Was the mail all addressed to the same person? It's reasonable to assume that it belongs to the person who was the previous tenant, who's likely possible to track down without too much effort. If you return it and they got a refund from the seller when they didn't get the phone, that's their ethical dilemma to deal with, but I still think what you should do here is clear.
posted by pinochiette at 5:38 AM on September 23, 2019 [7 favorites]

Or what pharm said- if the phone isn't going to work now anyway, maybe the best that you can do at this point is anonymously recycle it.
posted by pinochiette at 5:45 AM on September 23, 2019

Mod note: One deleted. Please keep answers helpful and civil; not everyone has the same baseline of understanding or knowledge about every subject ... which is why we're here. To help. If a question makes you want to lash out, it's better to pass it up.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:31 AM on September 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

If a vendor ships something to you that you did not order, it's yours. Previous tenant does not seem to have attempted to contact you. Apple is sitting on gobs of cash and has surely resolved the issue with the buyer. My moral high ground is low when it comes to big fat corporations and mixups. To Apple, the cost of tracking down a package is probably greater than the cost of replacing the phone.

You can check to see if the phone's IMEI has been deactivated. Even if it has been, the brand new phone is a useful source of parts. Sell it on ebay, take it to an Apple store, or donate it, with a note taped on that says the IMEI is deactivated and it is only for parts. My local Goodwill sells such stuff on ebay.
posted by theora55 at 7:37 AM on September 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

Nthing don't feel bad in the slightest, and do whatever you want with it. If no-one's made an attempt to get in contact, if you haven't got any information to go with, I think you're pretty morally clear.

If someone shows up one day and asks questions, then you might have an obligation to make some remedy, but I definitely wouldn't worry until that happened.

Give it to a good cause, hell, just give it to someone you know who might need a new phone, if it doesn't work as a phone for some reason give it to someone who can use it as a E-reader or scrap it or something.

You didn't open someone's letter and take their wages out. Someone who didn't care enough to swing by and check what happened to the IPhone they ordered in two years is probably not someone you should worry about getting a little burnt. They probably haven't gone without a phone. You may know people who do. Et voila.
posted by Acid Communist at 7:54 AM on September 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

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