Many consumers like to buy second-hand cell phones online. But many need to be unlocked before a new consumer can use them.
Cell phone carriers "lock" phones to their networks to make it hard for customers to leave for a competitor.
The major carriers in the wireless industry have voluntarily committed to the Federal Communications Commission that they will unlock phones that are eligible, but those eligibility requirements can be a confusing pain.
"If my car is paid for, give me a clean title on it," Jim Ray said.
Ray thinks the same principle should apply to cell phones. Ray recently bought a used smartphone online. When he called the original carrier for the phone, AT&T, he says they refused to give him the unlocking code because he wasn't the original owner.
"What difference does it make, where I got it or how I got it, as long as you don't show it as being stolen or anything, let's get the phone unlocked," Ray said.
Ray says AT&T confirmed the phone was not stolen and that he fully met the other unlocking requirements found right on AT&T's website.
"He didn't care what the website said, I didn't qualify because I wasn't the original owner, nothing he could do, have a great day," Ray said.
Ray says AT&T also confirmed he was a current customer in good standing and the phone was fully paid for, yet they still denied his request to unlock it.
"Loyalty should be earned, not forced," Ray said.
After all that, Ray says AT&T did send him the unlocking code, without an explanation, but he still went through one big hassle. He says a better option would be for buyers to tell sellers to unlock a phone before shipping it.
"My advice is, if you're an original owner of a phone, and you are going to put it up for sale or trade it in, sell it to somebody, take a moment, get with AT&T and get your phone unlocked," Ray said.
Buyers can be proactive also and ask sellers to unlock phones before shipping.
If they can't or won't, AT&T confirmed the three things a buyer needs to unlock a used phone: Be a current customer in good standing, have a phone that is paid in full and the phone must not have been reported lost or stolen.
Eligibility requirements for unlocking will vary, so check with your carrier about theirs. All major carriers have agreed to unlock eligible phones. If they declare any phone ineligible, they must notify consumers within two days as to the reason why.
AT&T wasn't sure what exactly happened in this case with Ray, but the company did get the unlocking code to him before CBS 5 News contacted them.
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