FedEx can make your phone trade-in disappear, but you don't have to make it easy

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One of the web's longest-running tech columns, Android & Chill is your Saturday discussion of Android, Google, and all things tech.

It's great that you can order your new phone via the internet and get it on release day because going to stores and waiting in lines sucks. Combined with all the great trade-in deals for the phone you have now, buying directly from a company like Samsung is the smart move.

But there's a dark side to it all that makes it a risk every time — you have no control over anything while it's in transit. Believe it or not, some random FedEx employee yoinking a phone right out of a box while it's on its way is a very real thing.

Most of the time, this happens when you're sending your old phone as a trade-in. It also might happen with UPS or the post office just as much as it does with FedEx, but the stories you read on the internet are all pretty similar.

You factory reset your phone, package it up in a box labeled with the right address, and then ship it off so you can save a whole bunch of money. Trade-in programs are awesome.

However, something goes wrong, and it takes a long time for a simple package to be delivered. Often times, there's some sort of delay listed on the tracking details, sometimes not, but either way, your box sits at a FedEx facility longer than it should. 

Once that box is received, it's empty. Either FedEx has magicians working for it or thieves. 

The back of the green Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

The majority of phones getting shipped make it to their destination without any problems. I've been lucky, and the few times I needed to send off a phone, it went without a hitch. Having said that, I've read about this happening over and over for a while, but recently, it seems like it happens a lot more often.

Maybe the thieves have realized how easy it is to recognize what boxes have expensive things inside, maybe they've just grown bold, or maybe it's simply more people reporting that it's happening. Regardless of the reason, it's a huge pain to get sorted, and you could be left SOL when it comes to the value of your trade-in. 

The worst part is there is nothing you can do to make sure it doesn't happen to you. That doesn't mean you have to make it easy, though. Let's look at how we can make a thief work for it and maybe even get caught.

The biggest problem is that it's obvious what's in the box because of the address it's headed to. You could pack your phone in some huge box and try to camouflage it, but it's still going to the place where good used phones go. The people working for shipping companies know what's inside these boxes, even the dishonest ones who want to steal things.

That means you have to be smart when you box it up. I know we all just want to get it sent off ASAP so we don't get charged the full price, but it's worth being wise and taking the time to do it right.

I returned my S23 ultra last week and just got an email with a video attached of someone opening an empty box. I can’t believe I’m not the only one whose return was stolen.

Slinkmunkee - Android Central forums

The easiest and most important thing you can do is document everything. By document, I mean video. You want to check out the camera on your new phone anyway, so what better way to do it than covering yourself?

Film yourself resetting the phone, putting it in the box, taping things shut, and dropping it off. Put those videos somewhere safe, like Google Photos, just in case someone says you sent an empty box and your card gets charged. When you talk to someone about it, they'll want to see them, and hopefully, it can help get you some money.

Unboxing the Obsidian Google Pixel Fold

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

You should also use tamper-proof tape for everything. You can buy a roll of it from Amazon, and one roll is enough to wrap the whole box like a Christmas present. That's what you should do, too — cover the entire box. And film yourself covering it.

This sounds extreme because it is. Spending a few bucks on security tape — don't just buy labels — and taking the time to use it all is a lot better than losing out on all that trade-in money, though. I would tape the box the phone is in and the exterior box you're shipping. If the company receives an empty package, it will be evident that somewhere in transit, it was sliced open.

An even better way to protect yourself is to take the package to a FedEx store and let them box it up and slap the label on it. They might even let you film them doing it, but be sure to ask before you go shoving a camera in someone's face while they are working. Doing this should leave little doubt that the box you sent wasn't empty when you sent it.

Samsung trade-in program

(Image credit: Future)

Companies like Samsung aren't happy about this either. It might not be them stealing the phones, but in the end, they have to hear the complaints, and it makes them look bad. Samsung didn't steal your phone or claim a box was empty (probably); some person at a package sorting facility did. But Samsung is who gets to hear about it.

Samsung — this can happen with any phone from any brand, but Samsung sells many more units, so it gets the honor here — has even stopped using FedEx Ground once it figured out that it happens more often with a package that spends more time in more hands.

And usually, once you talk to someone and show any evidence that you might have, you'll get your trade-in money anyway. That means every theft costs Samsung money, and companies like Samsung hate it when they make less money.

You can't stop a determined thief, and shipping companies have no way of knowing who to trust until someone gets caught. You can cover yourself and do everything possible to make sure you're not spending more than you need to. 

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • makapav
    My Pixel 2 XL trade-in device to Google what's stolen 2019 and Google pretty much gave me the runaround with no help from FedEx either. I lost $1,000 completely out of my pocket.
  • Pixelator
    If you are worried about a prepid FEDEX label, why not go to the Post Office and mail it insured? Cheaper than a roll of tape.
    Solution seems fairly simple.

    Whoever it is, Samsung, Google, etc.. They provide a unique trade-in login. You factory reset the phone, enter the trade-in ID and password, FRP is now in place.

    EID is put "on hold" and sent to all carriers. If it's stolen or received as an empty box, it gets blacklisted.

    But trade-in providers won't go through that effort because they have no incentive to do so. They get your phone, the fulfill their deal. They don't get it, they already have your money and get full value of the phone. It's win-win for them.
  • galaxyuser2023
    Pixelator said:
    If you are worried about a prepid FEDEX label, why not go to the Post Office and mail it insured? Cheaper than a roll of tape.
    Because Samsung will not let you send them a trade in device unless you use their label.
  • galaxyuser2023
    AC News said:
    Stealing the phone out of a FedEx box is a real thing that happens every day.

    FedEx can make your phone trade-in disappear, but you don't have to make it easy : Read more
    Glad this has finally made the news. I had this happen to me twice. As a result I'm presently thru with samsung trade ins for the foreseeable future. I also agree with the comment about recording yourself at the fedex location as you box up the item and drop it off. I didn't think about the tamper proof tape though. That is a really good idea.