Mississauga couple shocked after receiving empty iPhone box

Geoff Lu and his wife ordered a brand new iPhone for Christmas, then were shocked to find no phone in the box that was shipped to them.
Geoff Lu said he received this empty iPhone box after making purchasing the new phone from Apple. (Stephanie Matteis)

Update: Since this story was published and CBC Toronto contacted Apple, Geoff Lu was contacted by the company and told he will receive a refund for the missing iPhone 7 Plus.

Geoff Lu decided the new Apple iPhone 7 Plus, touted as one of the hottest high-end tech gifts for the holidays, was the perfect gift for his wife.

At more than $1,200, the phone was going to be an expensive purchase for the young couple, so Lu consulted with his spouse. She was thrilled with the prospect, so they ordered it online at the Apple store. And that's where things started going wrong.

Today, Lu still doesn't have the phone he purchased despite a months-long ordeal that's still ongoing, even though he has followed all of the recommendations provided by consumer advocates. Here's how it all happened.

Neither Lu nor his wife were at their Mississauga home when the package arrived in mid-November, he said. His wife then went to the UPS access point at 201 City Centre Drive to sign for it on Nov. 15.

With no intention of waiting for Dec. 25, she opened the package and was shocked to find the phone itself missing.

"She said, 'There's no phone inside.' At first I thought she was joking," Lu said.

He joined her at their kitchen table and surveyed the box, which still had the charger and headphones but no iPhone.

Who's to blame?

What happened next prompted Lu, 32, to contact CBC Toronto. He says he got the idea after seeing the CBC story about a GTA man who bought a Sony VR headset and said he got a dirty shirt instead.

I went through all the routes trying to see if there is someone who can help me, but I'm hitting dead ends everywhere.- Geoff Lu

In addition to going public with his issue, Lu also followed the steps most consumer advocates recommend.

Lu contacted Apple and UPS and explained what happened, and  put everything in writing.

He also went to the Apple store at Square One Shopping Centre, where a manager told him there's nothing the brick and mortar store can do about what happened with the online purchase.

Lu's credit card company, Capital One, said it will only refund the purchase if Apple reverses its charge.

"I went through all the routes trying to see if there is someone who can help me, but I'm hitting dead ends everywhere I go," Lu said.

Lu is hoping to get a refund or a replacement, but on Nov. 27, without elaborating, an Apple representative wrote to him to say the investigation is "completed" and there would be "no further action" taken by the company.

When CBC Toronto contacted Apple this week, a representative said the company is reviewing the situation and is in the process of responding to Lu.

After this story was published, Lu contacted CBC Toronto to say that he's since been asked to report the situation to police. He's then supposed to contact Apple and provide a police report number, but Lu said the customer service agent didn't tell him what — if anything — would happen next.

UPS says its hands are tied

Lu said his dealings with UPS were equally confusing. 

At first a "UPS preferred customer associate" wrote Lu to arrange a damage report and inspection of the package, which had the phone's serial number information on the outside of the box. Lu said looked like it may have had a flap lifted on an end that wasn't taped.

UPS does have guidelines for damage and loss, but nothing that describes what a customer can do in case a package's contents are missing.

After asking where he should bring the package for the report and inspection, the associate wrote on Dec. 7, that the delivery company was "unable to investigate further" because "Apple has closed the inquiry that they sent to us regarding your package."

"I don't know why Apple closed the investigation before UPS can get all the information," Lu said.

Steve Vitale, a UPS spokesman, said his company is responsible to its client, in this case, Apple. Unless Apple files a claim, he said, nothing can be done.

Final decision will come down to Apple, expert says

Ken Whitehurst, executive director of the Consumers Council of Canada, said this is a tough situation.

"Apple in this case clearly has a problem of, how did they know it really wasn't delivered?" he said. 

However, Whitehurst said the company may be in position to help Lu. 

"I would think after some period of time Apple will know where that device is."

Whitehurst said he was right to document everything that's happened. Next time, Whitehurst advised Lu and his wife to verify the contents of the package before signing for it, or consider shopping for such a big-ticket item in person.

"There have been concerns around e-commerce but generally when you're dealing with large companies they deal with these friction points to retain confidence in the system."

Whitehurst said if Apple doesn't provide a refund, Lu will have to consider small claims court.