'They should be shut down': 1000's complain about company taking phones

MCMINNVILLE, Ore. -- You get a new phone, and you don't want to just throw away the old one. You may look online to see about selling it. But, beware!

Thousands of customers have complained about a company they say is lying to them, taking your phone and leaving you helpless.

One of them is Tiffany Narveson of McMinnville.

"I just don't want anybody else to go through it," she said.

Narveson said she had her Samsung S5 Active for just six months, then switched to a new carrier and got a new phone.

She looked online for a company that would buy her "old" phone, and decided to sell to one of the first sites that showed up in her search, called Ecycle Best.

She said the site quoted her $433, money she planned to spend on her 4-year-old daughter who has a learning disability.

She said she sent the phone in and received an email back from Ecycle Best saying they were going to give her $34 instead of $433.

She tried to call back, she said. "Like, 50 times in one day. I was on the phone from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m."

She said she finally got through to a company representative.

"She tried telling me the phone had massive water damage, there was a sticker on the back they couldn't get off, that the battery exploded," Narveson said.

Narveson said that wasn't true. The site terms and conditions said she could get her phone back if she didn't like the offer.

"I said, 'I want the phone back.' She said, 'That's not how it works. You can either take our money or you're left with nothing.' I said, 'I don't want the money, I want the phone. And she hung up on me," Narveson explained.

Narveson said the same thing happened to her mom and sister at the same time, her mother received a quote of $293 but an actual payment offer of $29, and her sister received a quote of $203 and a payment offer of just $16.

She said neither her mom nor her sister could get her phone back.

"They should be shut down," said Narveson. "They're just taking people's money."

Narveson and her family are not the only ones with problems. The Better Business Bureau report, at last check, showed more than 2,300 complaints against the company running Ecycle Best, called simply Laptop and Desktop Repair in Sparks, Nevada, just outside Reno.

Many people wrote in their complaints that they tried to call in to reject the company's lower offer, but could never get through.

The Problem Solvers decided to test Ecycle Best, with the help of Nick Robitsch of CompRite, a local company that buys and sells used phones.

He offered up an iPhone 4S with 16G to send in.

"It's pretty much in flawless condition," said Robitsch. "If this had come into our store, we would have said this is a perfectly functioning phone in excellent condition. And we would have paid them a pretty reasonable price, probably, you know, $50 for it."

He entered the brand and model of the phone into the Ecycle Best site. The site quoted him $93.

Robitsch said that price is much too high, and unsustainable for a company to pay that kind of money for that kind of phone.

"There's no way. Just economically, as a business standpoint, you can't do that," said Robitsch. "Looks like a bait-and-switch to me."

Ecycle Best sent Robitsch a special box for him to ship them his phone.

Robitsch polished the phone and sent it in wrapped in bubble wrap.

"Like-new condition," he said.

Within days, Robitsch received an email from the company.

He said Ecycle Best is giving him only $7 for the phone.

"It's terrible. It's absolutely terrible," said Robitsch.

He called Ecycle best to request his phone back, as stipulated in the terms and conditions he agreed to when he signed up for the phone sale.

The company kept him on hold for 45 minutes.

At last, he was able to speak with a company representative. She told him the like-new phone he sent has heavy scratches on the front and back, heavy wear on the frame, and the audio and Wi-Fi don't work.

"That phone was in mint condition when I sent it to you," responded Robitsch.

The company representative told Robitsch he sent it in damaged, and he is lucky to get $7 for it.

"If the device is worth that little, I think I'd like to just have it back," Robitsch answered.

The company representative told him it is an automated process and he can't have the phone back.

The Problem Solvers joined Robitsch on speakerphone.

We're doing a news story about your company," Problem Solver Kerry Tomlinson explained to the company representative. "We did a test and sent in a phone in great condition and got a quote in the $90 range."

"We see that you guys are following through exactly as the complaints say on the BBB website," said Tomlinson.

The representative fell silent, and ultimately hung up the phone.

The Problem Solvers flew to Reno to see Ecycle Best in person.

The company is operated out of a building not far from the Reno airport, with no visible signs showing the company name.

The Problem Solvers rang the bell at the locked front door. After many minutes of waiting, someone finally answered the door.

"We're doing a news story about your company. We'd like to know why you're getting so many complaints," said Tomlinson.

"I have no comment," said the man at the door, who did not identify himself. "I'm going to ask you to leave the property."

The Problem Solvers left the business, but waited off the property to speak with the people working for a company accused of taking phones and money.

"Why do you think the company is getting so many complaints?" asked Tomlinson.

The employee did not respond.

"Why don't you want to answer?" asked Tomlinson.

"It's annoying," one woman replied.

The Problem Solvers found the company employees gave the same kind of customer service in person as they did on the phone.

"F--- you!" yelled one worker as he drove away.

Another employee walked briskly past the Problem Solvers.

"What about the thousands of customers who are losing money?" asked Tomlinson, as the employee slammed her car door closed. "Don't you care about them?"

The employee quickly drove off without answering.

Whether or not they care about you, the customer, they now know someone is watching, and not just the Problem Solvers.

The Nevada attorney general has started investigating the company.

"It's just amazing there are still people out there who do this to make a profit off of people," said Narveson.

Where do all the phones go? An employee spoke with the Problem Solvers anonymously and said the company takes the phones, strips them down, refurbishes them with very cheap parts, and sells them online, including on places like eBay.

The company did finally send the test phone back, but it appears as if someone tried to damage it to match some of the claims, like scratches and non-functioning Wi-Fi.

Narveson said she filed a complaint against Ecycle Best with the Better Business Bureau. She said after weeks of fighting with the company, she has now received a check for $200, instead of the $34 the company told her she had to accept.

Robitsch recommended you take steps to protect yourself when selling a used phone.

First, he said, check out the price of the phone you want to sell by searching for other phones like it on places like Craigslist and eBay. That will give you an idea of what the phones are going for, so you can spot prices that are too high and too low.

A company cannot sustain itself if it buys phones at very high prices, because it has to be able to sell the phone at market price, he said.

"Make sure you are doing your research and get accurate pricing, because there are people who will just scam you because they can," said Robitsch.

Check out the company at places like the Better Business Bureau, the Oregon attorney general's office and review sites online.

Note that the company running Ecycle Best has used many different names, according to the BBB. If a company that you are checking out has little web history, it may mean that the name and site are new, and does not guarantee that you will not have problems with the site.

Look carefully at the terms and conditions of the site. For example, the Ecycle Best site said you had three days to call in and accept or reject a lower offer than the quote you first saw before you sent in your phone.

"Three days is not long enough for this type of industry," said Robitsch. "There's nothing in this clause that says they have to be there to take your call."

Robitsch said he believes the best way to sell your phone is not online, but in person.

"I would never send my phone in to where I can't see who I gave it to and get a name and number for the person I gave it to," explained Robitsch.

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