Did Sprint break its “buyback” promise?

Cellular tower, waiting to be disconnected. / Photo by Gary Lerude - Flickr
Gary Lerude – Flickr
Question: I need your help with Sprint’s buyback program, which lets you receive credit for your old cell phone. I recently had to cancel my Sprint account because I moved to an area where I didn’t get service.

When I canceled the contract, I agreed to pay a cancellation fee, but the rep on the phone said I could go through Sprint’s buyback program and receive a $177 credit for my phone directly on my account.

But when I went into a Sprint store to return it, a representative told me I had to mail it back for the credit to go to my account. I went to Sprint’s website and did an online chat, and I was told the credit would not go onto my account, but I would have a check written to me.

I sent the phone back, and now Sprint has denied me credit because my Sprint account is “inactive.” Can you help? — Sarah Gagliardo, Asheville, NC

Answer: The Sprint buyback program is open only to new and existing customers, which is something the agents you spoke with should have mentioned. It’s also disclosed on the company’s program terms on its website.

In other words, when you canceled your Sprint account, you wouldn’t have been eligible for any credits. You would pay the early termination fee and walk away.

But you were really smart about this case. You managed to get a chat transcript, which proves a Sprint representative gave you incorrect information. Whether you did that intentionally or because you were confused, it matters not. Point is, you had a paper trail. Good for you!

The next step would have been to forward your paper trail to a Sprint executive. Here’s a list of Sprint brass. The email format is firstname.lastname@sprint.com or firstname.middleinitial.lastname@sprint.com. So, for example, its CEO, Daniel Hesse, would be Daniel.R.Hesse@sprint.com.

But I think you’ve suffered enough. I contacted Sprint on your behalf, and it agreed to refund $177 to your credit card.

Did Sprint break its "buyback" promise?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • foggybear

    Isn’t the ETF waived when you move to a location with no service? She should have been able to return the phone, get the credit, then provide proof of a new address with no service and end the contract with no fees. Of course, this is Sprint we’re talking about . . .

  • PsyGuy

    Sprint didnt break its buy back promise, it just poorly trained its representatives. Anyone could have found the program terms on the Sprint site.

    Personally, the number of times this person made contact about the program, and then saving the chat transcript on the third time, hints to me that they may have been fishing for a representative to say what they wanted to hear and then use the “evidence” to beat the program policy.

    I wonder if Chris could find out how many calls, chats or contacts this person made before getting their screen captured chat transcript. Why didnt they just take advantage of the buy back program while they were a customer and then cancel. It just sounds like damage control to me, the individual canceled their account, then realized they couldn’t use the buy back program, and then went looking for a representative to give them a commitment they could use to beat the policy.

  • http://www.hamptoninnsantaclarita.com/ Hampton Hotels Santa Clarita

    This means that when a customer purchases a new device online, Sprint’s
    website will guide them through the process of reselling their old
    phones in exchange for purchase credit.

  • http://www.cfpphysiciansgroup.com/ Physicians Group

    It just sounds like damage control to me, the individual canceled their
    account, then realized they couldn’t use the buy back program, and then
    went looking for a representative to give them a commitment they could
    use to beat the policy.

  • emanon256

    I am glad they got the money back in the end. Its sad to see these poorly trained representatives all give incorrect information, although they could be trained to be deceptive intentionally for all I know and try to get them to cancel, and pay the fee, so they won’t get the buy-back money.

    I too thought they waived the ETF if you moved to an area with no coverage, but that policy could have changed.

  • doctork

    It is incredible that so many feel Sprint acted right. I hope they have to face similar situations.

  • doctork

    I was able to post but not file a negative comment? Two negatives should equal a positive.

  • EdB

    Sprint, the company, was following the terms of its buy back program. Sprint acted right. However, when presented with evidence that a Sprint representative gave incorrect information about the buy back program, Sprint again did what was right and honored the offer incorrectly offered. So how did Sprint not act right?

  • EdB

    Moving into an area without coverage is not grounds for waiving the ETF. It is viewed as a voluntary action that the carrier has no control over so why should they be on the hook for something they have no control over. However, in the past, carriers normally would waive it as a good will gesture. But because of people faking moves, giving an address of a friend or relative in an area with no coverage, they haven’t been so willing to waive it anymore.

  • http://thestockhome.com/ Josh S

    Well, yes, but the terms of service let them hedge about what “location with no service” means. If you live in an area/region where there is no service, then yes, you can typically cancel without an ETF. But if there is service provided (even if it’s just voice/2G data, without the 4G/LTE speeds you’re actually paying for) within something like 20 miles of your address, they consider you to be in a region with service, and therefore still held to the terms of your contract including ETF.

    It’s crap. But they do *not* guarantee that you will have coverage where you live, where you work, or any other specific location–just that they ‘provide service to your area’. It’s a HUGE hedge, and a crappy term in the contract that’s really difficult to understand the implications of until you get in a situation like you describe.

  • Nigel Appleby

    I agree with EdB, you said it better than I could.

  • EdB

    What are you talking about “file a negative comment?”

  • emanon256

    That must be what happened to me with T-Mobile then. That’s nice that they woudl do that as good will, and pretty sad that people woudl take advantage of it. I am sick of people taking advantage of things and then ruining them for people who legitimately need them.

  • Adam_The_Man

    Its a scam. They intentionally got him to cancel first, just so he couldn’t participate. Then they got his phone too. Its all setup to rip people off as usual.

  • JenniferFinger

    I don’t think it broke the “buyback” promise, but its agents did give Gagliardo the wrong information and then ran her around. Good thing she kept a paper trail.

  • JenniferFinger

    I think the problem was that Sprint only honored the offer after one of its agents gave her incorrect information in the first place. Had it told Ms. Gagliardo when she first tried it, “Sorry, but the program doesn’t apply to customers in your situation,” and refused it, it would have acted right. Instead, three different agents gave her three different conflicting accounts of what it would do and what she would have to do.

  • EdB

    Sprint had no offer to honor period. The buyback offer was only valid for current customers and the OP did not qualify for it. The problem was the reps giving false information about the program to the OP. Sprint recognized this error and as compensation paid the OP the equivalent amount they would have gotten if they had qualified for the offer.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I think it’s more a matter of the poll’s wording than people being in love with how Sprint acted. They eventually paid the OP, thus they did in the end effectively honor the buyback promise. The poll doesn’t ask anything about it being timely or particularly well-handled.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    The phrase that works on every topic.

    My dog ran away. “It’s a scam!”
    We’re out of ketchup, “It’s a scam!”
    I’m running a few minutes behind, “It’s a scam!”
    Anybody want the last bread roll? “It’s a scam!”

  • JenniferFinger

    I agree about their recognizing an error. But I do think three different reps giving her three different responses and not “doing what was right” until they were presented with the evidence does constitute a problem.

  • cjr001

    I don’t know if Sprint broke their promise, but it’s certainly set up in their favor, as these often are.

  • http://play.google.com/store/music/artist?id=Ayjge54z7awmdbnfr5f77bbsxpe Butt Face Bill [29k comments]

    I think it was more of incompetent customer service representatives, not Sprint breaking their own policies.

  • http://play.google.com/store/music/artist?id=Ayjge54z7awmdbnfr5f77bbsxpe Butt Face Bill [29k comments]

    Happens to me all the time when dealing with Sprint, each CSR will give you different advice/instruction/solution, they are never consistent.