British iPhone insurance scam

November 29, 2007, 4:54 PM UTC

Employees at Carphone Warehouse, the U.K.’s largest cellphone retailer and the main distributor of Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone in Britain, have been caught trying to mislead customers about what is and isn’t covered by the purchase agreement, according to the

Responding to viewer complaints, undercover researchers from BBC One’s Watchdog unit visited five Carphone Warehouse stores. In three out of the five, a salesperson told BBC staffers posing as customers that if they lost their iPhone, they would have to buy both a new phone and a new 18-month contract at a minimum cost of 630 pounds ($1,300 at today’s exchange rate).

That’s not true. Customers who lose an uninsured iPhone have to buy a replacement, but can still use their existing contract. Apparently the salespeople were trying to convince customers to buy coverage they did not need from the store’s own insurance policy.

In a fourth Carphone Warehouse store, BBC One was told that the iPhone insurance policy offered by O2, Apple’s other U.K. partner, provided less coverage than theirs. That was also untrue.

The story is reminiscent of some of the problems that surfaced when Apple partnered with AT&T (T) to sell the iPhone in the U.S. Shortly after the iPhone was introduced — and when the devices were still in stort supply — several AT&T stores reportedly wouldn’t let customers buy an iPhone unless they also bought a bundle of AT&T accessories. See Gizmodo‘s report here.

A spokesperson for Carphone Warehouse acknowledged to the BBC that there could be “some element of confusion among an isolated number of sales consultants,” but added that the company did not believe the small number of complaints were a “fair reflection” of the experience of thousands of iPhone customers.

The BBC report points out that Carphone Warehouse was fined 245,000 pounds ($500,000) last year for breaking British rules about selling insurance.