Can you spot a fake? Last month I learned the hard way how difficult this is.
Using Kijiji – an online marketplace considered a ‘grey market’ for new and used items – I bought what was billed as a brand-new Apple Watch Series 6. This $699 watch was posted as sealed in the box and offered at $450, a price I haggled down to $420. Comparable products on Kijiji range from $550 or more to $400 for slightly damaged watches.
Selling fake Apple Watches is common – they appear to be flooding the community – but the work made to present this product as legitimate was impressive.
My transaction started like any other. I made an overture to meet the Kijiji seller calling himself “Christian.” Kijiji users commonly employ aliases, and Christian’s response was to offer a street address and mention he’d “be right down in 2 minutes” when I arrived, as if to indicate that he lived above the address, a bank building. But when he arrived, 10 minutes later, he was walking up the street, not out of the apartment complex in front of me.
Christian had the watch in a cream-coloured grocery bag. His confident walk, dark button-up shirt and khakis made me think he was well off. His easy-going nature and smooth speech patterns spelled innocence. He asked how I was, and seemed to genuinely want to know.
Anticipating my first move, Christian grabbed a receipt from his grocery bag and handed it to me mid-stride. The paper was thicker stock than usual, though it did not make me hesitate as receipts are printable at home. The name on the accurate-looking Apple receipt was “Shane Benard” so I asked Christian if this was his real name. He said yes somewhat hesitantly and that his uncle purchased the watch for him as a gift.
I asked when it was bought. “November 2020,” he replied. Indeed the receipt said “November 2020.” What I missed was that it also said “Return Date.” I felt it was odd that a sealed product had been purchased, but not opened since November of last year. “Can I open the box? I have the money here.” Handing Christian the cash, I noted that Christian did not count it as he looked at me.
I removed the shrink wrap, opened the box and examined the contents. The charger seemed okay. The watch face looked lighter than expected, but I hadn’t seen one in a long time. Being cautious, I searched Apple’s online warranty check service at checkcoverage.apple.com. and noted a legitimate serial number and model. I did not question what I saw.
“I don’t mind you looking at it, but I have to get back to work,” said Christian. This nudge worked perfectly. Creating a bit of urgency allows a fraudster to keep things moving while motivating you to look less closely. I perused the rest of the package quickly and let Christian walk away, excited to be the owner of a new Apple Watch.
Two hours later I opened the box and attempted to pair the watch with my phone. But it wasn’t possible (fakes can’t replicate Apple-integrated functions). I tried to reach Christian, but there was no reply from Kijiji messages, and his phone number was suddenly “not in service.”
As I sat in a Sherbourne Street cafe, the sophistication of this scam started to sink in. I reported this both to Kijiji and the Toronto Police. Given the increasing quality of fake goods, it’s wise to be cautious if you buy in the grey market.