7 On Your Side: Solving a pricey iPhone return mess

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The good news when Alex Amer's iPhone stopped working was that it was still under warranty. The bad news was that after swapping it out for a new one and sending the broken device back to AT&T, the phone company said all they received was an empty box.

"My dad calls me screaming, 'Why didn't you send back the phone?'" Amer said. "I'm like, what are you talking about?"

She had sent it back, but the mobile utility disputed that claim.

"They started claiming that we didn't send the phone back," dad Richard Lynne said.

So he and his daughter set out out to solve the mystery of what happened to her defective phone.

The company even sent a snapshot of the box with no phone inside, but Amer swore she sent it off in the same box with the label AT&T shipped her replacement phone inside -- and gave the box to her doorman.

Initially, she received a text from AT&T that the device was scanned and was in transit to the warranty department.

But days later, Lynne got dinged with a big charge on the family plan -- a whopping $725 -- for non-return of the broken phone.

"I said to them, why would I want to keep a phone that's s broken?" Amer said.

He disputed the charge with his American Express and got a temporary credit, but in the meantime, AT&T was sending him to collections. So he had to pay the bill to avoid having his phone shut off.

He forked over the $725, then called 7 On Your Side after finding similar "empty box" complaints from customers charged the full replacement value for disappearing phones -- including a report from 7 On Your Side in San Francisco from sister station KGO-TV's Michael Finney about the same dilemma.

We understood something wasn't right and sent our own message to AT&T, who credited Lynne's account back the $725.

"The only reason they did this is because Nina and her crew and everyone else at 7 On Your Side got our money back," Lynne said.

"They didn't care about us," Amer added. "You guys cared about us, which was really sweet."

We asked AT&T if it had any tips for customers sending cell phones back but got no response, and the spokesperson told us it investigated and worked with the customer to get them their credit.

But our big takeaway is that any time you return something via the mail, take pictures and videos as proof you packed it up and sealed the box.

Take it the post office, weigh it, and then hang on to your receipt that displays the weight. Or better yet, send it certified with return receipt requested so you know who signed for it.

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