This post continues from Part 1 of Confronting an Apple Watch Counterfeit Ring.
The moment all this sunk in, I felt a keen sense of desperation and finality. As someone who works in technology and is considered an expert by many – I felt a distinct sense of shame. How could I have let this happen? How could I have let them fool me? Coupled with my already careful nature, I’ve bought and sold online for more than a decade. It shouldn’t have happened. After allowing that feeling to marinate, I set out to investigate. I had to learn more and maybe catch these culprits.
A word of warning: The Toronto Police Service makes it very clear you should never confront someone who scams you. It could lead to a dangerous encounter, and a material thing is not worth your safety. If this happens to you, file a report with the police and let them look into it.
My first and only lead was that scammer “Christian” kept the Kijiji Apple Watch post online. I generally expected he’d fool one sucker, pull down the advertisement and move on. But, it appeared he had more fake Watches to sell. So, I went about creating fake Kijiji accounts in a fever. My first attempt was a non-descript male name, and Christian didn’t bite. After three more tries, I thought a more attractive female might work better. Taking a stock photo of a Swedish woman and a common female name, I again messaged Christian – and, a response.
Christian was easy-going as ever. In one exchange about where they’d meet:
“Is the Tim Hortons busy?” My fake female says
“Not at all. The Tim Hortons isn’t very busy itself. I’m just at work, so I will message you in a bit.”
I feign helplessness and say, “ok. I hope so; these places freak me out.”
Christian was ready to deal, and with the help of my female compatriot, he set up a meeting. I kept a watchful distance while we waited for contact from Christian. When he arrived, he was chatty and reasonable. At this point, I rushed to get closer to the action while my helper had Christian talk up a storm and personally unwrap the Apple Watch. My helper had me on a phone call the entire time while they chatted about the Watch’s features. I could hear them talking about how he worked at Hydro One and how the Watch came from “his sister.” Christian’s mark would never buy this and had no cash, but he didn’t know this.
As I hurried closer, I quickly enabled video recording on my phone (only later to learn it didn’t start). I’m taking great care to conceal my face with a baseball cap, sunglasses, and a mask turned inside out. Darting around the corner, I could see Christian and my assistant just inside the lobby. I turned and boxed him in with my hand on his chest, grabbing his arms and looking into his eyes. He looked at his mark, then me again. I said, “Give me back my money.” The look of terror on his face was simultaneously horrible yet satisfying.
I heard him mumble, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” as he broke free of me and started grabbing for his small black pouch. I clenched his arms again to stop him. I muttered, “What, do you have a knife?” He dropped down and stumbled forward, free of me once more and running towards a set of double doors. Turning back, he paused and grabbed for his black pouch again. As someone who has encountered this before, his movements suggested he had no weapon. What his hand motion did is move me backward, long enough for him to get through the doors and into the building. Christian was off running as fast as I’ve seen anyone run.
In the flush of the moment, my helper was very flustered, for a good reason. I worked to calm her down and immediately left the area with her. In his haste, Christian had forgotten not only the bag he was using to carry his fake Apple Watch but the Watch itself. Christian would get no money and hopefully gain a scare. Immediately after, Christian’s Kijiji profile deleted the fake Watch advertisement and inexplicably started selling an expensive Samsung phone. I now had two fake Apple Watches, a fake receipt and Christian’s fingerprints on all of them. There was no picture of him in the commotion, which is a shame.
On reflection, this Christian seemed taller and skinnier than the one I first met. His thin, tall frame was slight and easy to subdue. He also wore a black button-up shirt, a mask and sported a beard. I noted his use of flip-flops and socks. I remember thinking he might be the leader of this group of criminals. This Christian did not feel like a threat (beyond the possibility of a weapon). The entire incident was scary, unpredictable, and reckless of me – even though I’d had dangerous encounters before. Again, DO NOT ATTEMPT something like this yourself.
The next day, I filed a police report. The reporting site mentioned it could be several days before they’d be contacting me. In the meantime, I set about gathering as much information about the two counterfeit Watches as possible. I wanted to compare them to an authentic Apple Watch, so I purchased a real one from Apple. I took several close, high-resolution images of the two. On close inspection, there are many inconsistencies. On the package, the model number doesn’t match its FCC ID (it should). The phony package contains no French (required by law in Canada). The back of a genuine Watch has an etched logo to the left of the word “Watch,” while the fake does not. The counterfeit Watch completes an Electrocardiogram (EKG) test whether you’re wearing it or not. The included fake “Sport” band colour (white) does not match the packaging (black).
I’d heard of Apple Watch clones that have flooded the market (from sites like aliexpress.com). One popular clone, called IWO 12, replicates Apple’s product as far back as Series 5. For them, buying this Watch is not the whole story. The counterfeiters must also get authentic-looking packaging, print a manipulated or accurate receipt, modify the software of the fake Watch’s “About” screen and finally print basic Apple wording on the back of the IWO’s dial. None of these modifications come with the Watch. All of these changes need to include an exact, legitimate serial number. It all amounts to an intricate and timely con job (once the serial number is out of Warranty, they have to start again).
To help others avoid this scam, I posted an advertisement detailing these differences on Kijiji. One user replied saying “I just gave a guy s*** for trying to sell me a bogus watch.” – it was good to hear others were catching these fakes and walking away. Another user name “Nate” responded with details of his own experience. After comparing his fake to the two I’d acquired, it became clear it was part of the same scam. He called it “It’s a beautiful fake.” while explaining that Nate purchased his Apple Watch in Ottawa. These criminals get around. Thankfully Nate is selling his Watch as a blatant copy for $80.00 and not trying to fool anyone.
Toronto is becoming a very hospitable market for sellers of counterfeit products and the crime that comes with it. If you have experience with someone trying to sell you a fake Apple product, please contact me to share your story.
An abridged version of this will appear in The Bridge News.