Action 9: How thieves are using Apple warranty to steal phones

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ORLANDO,Fla. - Action 9 investigates a loophole in Apple’s warranty that helps thieves who steal iPhones. The crooks can send Apple the stolen phones that the company will fix or replace, and then send them back to the crooks and not the legal owners.

Action 9 found out how that puts iPhone owners at risk and what's being done about it.

Six months after her daughter's iPhone was stolen by a pickpocket at an Orange County nightclub, Robin Rosen got a call at home in Boca Raton.

"They're telling me, 'Mrs. Rosen, we have your iPhone here. We're trying to recreate the sensor problem that you sent it in for,'" she explained.

That's how she discovered the crook had sent her daughter's phone to Apple, asking the company to replace the damaged iPhone. Then Robin was told that instead of sending her daughter the iPhone, a new one was being sent to the thief.

"The end result was the phone went back to the criminal," said Rosen.

Action 9 checked with the Orange County Sheriff's Office and found at least two other consumers claimed their stolen iPhones were sent to Apple and they could not get them back.

The sheriff's office discovered the loophole in Apple's generous warranty. In the police report, detectives wrote: "Apples policy states they can only return products they receive for repair to the person who mailed it in."

Many cellphone resale companies said they get complaints from consumers who feel like victims.

"Daily, multiple times on a daily basis," said Casey Paris of World Wide Cells. "Even with proof of ownership, original ownership of the device, they will not get it back. It only goes to person who sent it in."

Apple did not respond to Action 9's request for comment.

Rosen's daughter was lucky. Police retrieved her phone when Apple sent it back to the man who allegedly stole it.

"It's wrong.  Why should this criminal have my cellphone?  We paid for it," said Rosen.

Other cellphone makers do not track ownership either. What makes Apple different is the generous warranty, which is what thieves are counting on.

Apple's newest operating system includes a security question you select, but without the right answer there is no warranty.