What to do about a cell phone that I bought from someone but which can’t be used due to the seller’s ouutstnding balance with the cell hone provider?

I recently brought a phone off of craigslist for $150. The ad stated that the phone was good, the electronic serial number was ready for use with a certain cell provider. So I paid the money but when I went to the cellphone provider’s store to activate it, I was notified that the phone is unable to be used because the seller owed money on the account. Therefore until it was paid, the phone is inoperabl. I tried contacting him – I texted him and called him 19 times. He turned off his phone and will not reply to any of the emails. I’m thinking that this case is a fraudulent ad case. I do not know what to do at this point. I called the cell phone provider and the only way would be for him to call and then authorize them to remove his account.

Asked on September 15, 2012 under General Practice, Virginia


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

Legally, you sue the seller for breach of contract (not providing what you paid for and he agreed to provide) and/or consummer fraud (misrepresenting, or lying about, a critical fact to get you to enter into the transaction). Practically, if you can't contact him and don't have a mailing address, there is nothing to do--you can't sue someone without an address, and the cost and effort of finding an address in a case like this, then bringing the lawsuit, then taking collections action (since it's highly unlikely that he'll pay after you sue him and win, forcing you to take action to collect the money) would exceed thge $150, anyway.

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