FOX 29 Investigates: Certified Pre-Owned iPhone With 'Fake Parts?'

You buy yourself a certified pre-owned iPhone. Within a little bit of time, it stops working right. So, you head back to T-Mobile, where you bought it. They send you to Apple, and it's a fake? And you're left holding the bag? Doesn't sound right, does it?

FOX 29 Investigates' Jeff Cole has the story.

Amber Martinez spotted an early Black Friday deal online and clicked to get a surprise gift for her daughter.

The single mother from Downingtown wanted a way to stay in touch.

So she got a certified pre-owned Apple iPhone 5 from T-Mobile. It was cheaper. T-Mobile calls these "New2U" phones.

Eleven-year-old Diavanna had been asking for an iPhone.

"But when I got it for Christmas, I was actually happy and I didn't know if she was going to give it to me, and I was thankful that she got it for me," she said.

The used smartphone brought more surprises than mom expected.

The $348 device, which she financed, was kept in a protective case, insured and worked fine for a few months.

"Then it started to get hot and not charge. The screen at the top left-hand corner separated," she said.

Amber called T-Mobile.

"They said that, if I sent back a broken phone, I'd have to pay for it," she said.

At a T-Mobile store, employees told her to go the Apple Store. But there was a hitch.

"She asked me for the IMEI number that should be located on the back of the phone," Amber said. "And it wasn't there. So, she said, 'Your iPhone is the only one in the universe that doesn't have an IMEI number.' I said, 'Well, I guess so because it's not here.'"

Eventually, Amber got to Apple.

"They took the phone in the back," Amber said. "About five minutes later, he comes out, the representative with my phone, and tells me that unfortunately he can't fix the phone. And I asked 'Why?' and he said, 'Because it's not a real Apple phone."

The Apple Store wrote out on a document what the problems were. The iPhone had "several fake parts," including the enclosure and display. There were signs of "unauthorized modifications" and heavy use as well as rust and liquid damage. Plus that tracking number was missing from the backplate.

Not only was T-Mobile's 90-day "New2U" warranty expired, but no Apple warranty applied either because it wasn't a new phone or refurbished by them. Apple refused to repair it.

Amber was so upset she contacted police and called back T-Mobile.

"I said, 'Regardless of where it comes from, you're certifying it as a real Apple phone, I'm expecting it to be a real Apple phone. And, I found out that it's not because a real Apple company won't fix it," she said.

Police tell us it's a civil matter, and they referred Amber to some places to get help.

T-Mobile shipped out another phone. But when it, too, had no tracking number on the backplate, Amber returned both phones.

Then the company sent a new iPhone 5S. But a $400 billing charge appeared for replacing a phone that wasn't under warranty.

By then, Amber had contacted FOX 29 Investigates for help.

T-Mobile told us its "care teams" were "working with the customer to find a solution specifically for her."

The company first told us it works with "certified repair vendors to ensure ... pre-owned devices 'just work' and have only genuine parts."

Online there's a long list of checks T-Mobile makes before you can get your phone, but no mention of the parts it puts in there.

Pressed on this issue, T-Mobile said it doesn't authorize the use of non-Apple parts for iPhone repairs, but the company tells us its "New2U" warranty states refurbished or substitute parts may be used. We pointed out that customers would only learn of this after purchase. A spokeswoman said they have up to 14 days to return phones if they're not satisfied.

"Anytime you're buying used electronics, you really have to watch," said tech expert and FOX 29 News contributor Anthony Mongeluzo. The owner of Pro Computer Service was taken aback by Amber's story.

"Yeah, it's surprising - more surprising that it's an official T-Mobile certified product," Mongeluzo said.

There are lots of places to buy pre-owned phones, but you have to beware, he said. Make sure it's certified, look it over and compare to in-store models. Pop the battery, if you can. Ask about the warranty and return policy. Buy with a credit card for added protection, and almost always take the insurance.

Mongeluzo believes companies should disclose if they're using third-party parts.

"Give the consumer a chance to make a decision. Don't tell you it's a 'certified pre-owned phone' because, to me, that means it's going to have all the original parts," he said.

Diavanna wound up going a few weeks without her phone. Now, she's back to using Kik, SnapChat and Instagram, in touch with friends and ready to take lots of summer vacation photos.

And Amber, after lots of phone calls and going between stores, is ready for the hassle to end.

"It's just taken up a lot of my time," she said.

That $400 charge has disappeared from Amber's bill. T-Mobile has now offered several hundred dollars toward another device or savings on her bill. Amber says she'll reject that and may dump T-Mobile because of the problems.