ADVERTISEMENT

Whistleblower: Apple policy 'encourages theft,' victim says

  • Blog Post by: Jane Friedmann
  • January 21, 2013 - 4:20 PM

On Sunday, Whistleblower wrote about an Apple, Inc.'s policy that allowed a thief to hand in a stolen phone at an Apple Store and get a replacement. To contribute to the reader discussion go to the original story.

Edina High School student Haley Rian and the police both know where her stolen iPhone ended up nine months ago. They both know now she will never get it back.

The thief didn't sell it in some dark alley somewhere. Instead he or she brought it to the Apple Store, said it wasn't working and got a free replacement.

That's standard operating procedure. If an iPhone has a service plan, such as the one Rian's parents bought for her phone, it will be repaired or replaced, no matter who presents the phone for service, according to Apple.

"I am stunned at the policy through which Apple seemingly encourages theft," Haley's mother, Ellen Rian, said. She contacted Whistleblower because of a nagging concern that the policy will lead youth astray. "They're at a scary age, high school students," she said.

An Apple spokesman, Nick Leahy, declined to comment on whether any policy is in place to verify the identity of a person who brings a product in. But he did say that the service plan "is tied to the product," not to the person who bought the plan or who owns the phone.

"A lot of our customers might buy a product for a gift," Leahy said.

In Haley Rian's case, however, police tried to determine the identity of the thief, but Apple failed to respond to police inquiries, according to Edina police Sgt. Brian Tholen. The case was eventually shelved.

"We hit a dead end in the investigation. We tried to work with Apple to get what we needed and we didn't receive any assistance," he said. "Apple has not been easy to work with on phones."

Apple also declined to comment on Tholen's concerns. Ellen Rian said the company offered to refund the remainder of the $99 annual protection plan premium, but the family hasn't followed up on it.

Efforts to get phone back fail

On a school day last April, Haley didn't notice that her cellphone was missing until about lunch time. Her father was dropping off a lunch for her and she realized the iPhone she had had for only four months was no longer in her backpack.

About an hour later, her father, Chris Rian, called Apple for help deactivating the phone. He was told that Haley's phone had already been exchanged for a new one at the Apple Store at the Mall of America.

Apple cited standard policy when it refused to give Haley's phone back or provide the serial number of the new phone, Ellen Rian said. She said the family was told by an Apple employee that they needed to file a police report and get a subpoena to get that information.

"This international company can give away phones without so much as a look at a driver's license," Ellen Rian said. "That phone is out there, it's under my name and I don't own it," she added.

The Rians thought a police report had been filed when the school's police liaison officer was notified of the theft, but that wasn't the case. Ellen Rian then filed a report in June with the Edina Police Department.

When the Rians told Apple that the phone had been stolen, Apple "should have contacted the local police department, which would have been Bloomington at the time, and say we have a piece of stolen property that was turned in," Tholen said.

"Usually a patrol officer will go out there and take a report, take the property and find out who the property belongs to," Tholen said.

In 2011, police in Toronto were able to return a stolen iPhone to its rightful owner, the Toronto Star reported. The victim received an e-mail from Apple confirming an appointment to examine the phone at a local store. After getting no help from Apple, the victim tipped off city police, who showed up at the appointed time but found that the thief had already exchanged the stolen phone for a new one. Police confiscated the victim's phone from the Apple Store and returned it to him, the Star reported.

Leahy had no comment when asked what assistance it provides to theft victims, but the company's website states that "Apple does not have a process to track or flag lost or stolen product" and recommends customers file a police report.

The website does, however, have instructions on how customers can deactivate their phones or track their location.

It's an increasingly common crime with the proliferation of smartphones. About 30 to 40 percent of all robberies in Washington, D.C., New York City and other major cities involve cellphones, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

In London, England, cellphones are by far the most common item taken in "personal robberies" and about 160 Apple iPhones are stolen each day, according to Metropolitan Police data released Tuesday.

Tholen admitted the "solvability factor" of the crime is low. This fall, Edina High School officials cautioned students against bringing expensive electronics to school.

Ellen Rian hopes Apple will revise its policies.

"Kids are really savvy with technology today. If they know the policy and they know if they go in there with a broken one -- it just takes one smart kid to break their phone and go in and get it replaced and say, dang, I could do this again."

© 2014 Star Tribune