There are a lot of great deals to be found on marketplace websites like Kijiji and Craigslist but there is also the risk of getting ripped off and buying broken, stolen, or even fake items.
Over the Christmas holidays this year I had an encounter with someone trying to sell me a fake iPhone 6s Plus.
Negotiating the deal
Over the Christmas Holidays I came across a “brand new” unlocked 128gb iPhone 6s plus at a reasonable, and negotiable, price on Kijiji.ca in the Sault.
After some back and forth texting as well as a phone call with what seemed to be a young man in his 20s, the seller and I made an agreement to meet around noon at the Mall the next day so that I could inspect the phone and possibly buy it.
However, before going to bed I got one more text message.
“Oh also, since its unlocked it doesn’t have the apple play store, it has the android play store, is that ok? Or no?”
I was immediately suspicious and probed him further with more questions while at the same time going online to research the topic.
He said it ran on iOS (Apple) software but that because of “how you unlock your phone” the iPhone would no longer connect to Apple however it would still work with Apple Watch.
After some quick googling and looking on message boards like Reddit I put found out that there are very convincing Chinese iPhone clones being passed around that run a version of Android that looks very much like iOS except that it won’t connect to iTunes or the Apple App Store.
Realizing I probably stumbled on someone trying to sell off fake iPhones I decided not to tell him that I was on to him so that I could see the phone up close, report about it, and possibly getting the word out for others to be careful.
So we arranged to meet with him still thinking that I intended to buy the iPhone.
The next morning he didn’t show up at the mall but after a couple of hours of texting and calling we made arrangements to meet at a Tim Horton’s restaurant.
As I sat at the Tim Horton’s in walked a casually dressed young man with short facial hair, piercings, and a hoody popping of baggy casual tan jacket.
We got right to the deal and he told me that he started telling me the story about how he bought the phone at an Apple Store in St. Catherines, ON where he said he was from and that he had it unlocked at a third-party shop.
As we chit chatted and he gave a story about why he was selling the phone I inspected it.
In the ‘Settings’ menu the listed memory was 64gb instead of 128gb but he passed this off as a mistake by his “girlfriend” who “made the ad”.
While I expected the phone to feel cheap in someway I found it very difficult to tell that it was anything but the real thing.
The body was made of me high quality metal, all the ports, switches and camera parts looked legitimate, and the screen resolution wasn’t too bad (though perhaps a give away, however intangible, was that it somehow didn’t “wow” me like real 6s screens do).
The phone included all the Apple accessories and it even had a well-printed and realistic looking box.
In my opinion the phone itself could easily have fooled the sharpest of people as even the software responded authentically however, as expected and discussed, it would not connect to the Apple Store or iTunes.
There were other things that raised concerns with me.
There were only two songs in the music player as well as Chinese script and the word “sdcard1”.
Real iPhones don’t use SD cards but I had seen some indication online that some fake phones use SD cards for their internal memory, which I suspect is why the music player read that.
The seller had changing stories of how these songs got on the phone.
The seller also said he bought three phones, including the one he was selling me, from an “Apple Store” for a little over $1000 each and he said it was originally locked to Bell, though he wasn’t exactly sure – it sounded like a weak explanation.
I looked it up and St. Catherines does not have an official Apple Retail Store, locked iPhones typically sell with two-year contracts for an immediate purchase price well under $1000, and, anyways, why would someone buy three phones under contracts and then get them unlocked? And why wasn’t he sure if the phone was originally locked to Bell? Who spend $3000 without knowing the most basic info?
The iPhone box he showed me contained a plastic screen protector which he said came with it however iPhones don’t come with that particular accessory and in some videos of fake iPhones online that accessory is included in the box just as it was with his – another sign of it being fake.
I decided to let the seller know that the phone was, as best as I could tell, a fake and that I would probably write about this experience (I had mentioned earlier I was a journalist when we were trying to set up the meet though of course I didn’t tell him at the time I was intending to investigate this).
The man then acted outraged, not at me, but at the person he said sold him these phones. He was going to sue the third-party shop or the Apple Store for either selling fake iPhones or switching phones on him during a repair.
He gave me a first and last name and agreed to meet up the next day so we could get more into the specific details of how he was really the one that got ripped off.
The next day his number was not in service anymore and the Kijiji ad was deleted.
There was however a record of the ad online and I was able to pull the original address from it and after some creative Google searching and cross referencing of information (I won’t get into it, nothing illegal, it was just complicated) I was actually able to find the person’s real name, Facebook page, and real address.
I decided to use the information to pursue him for further comment.
As I pulled up to the address I noticed how nice the yard was and that there was a sign that mentioned “God” on the lawn.
I went up to the door and as I knocked a couple, perhaps in their 60s, were walking out the door and I asked if the person , based on the Facebook name, was there.
I was told that I was speaking with his “Nana” and that the person in questions was sleeping in the basement.
‘Nana’ tried to get him out of bed but even though she told him a journalist was there to see him I was told he was suddenly not feeling well and would not getting out of bed.
After this I called the house at a number Nana gave me and by Facebook but received no answer from him.
I didn’t want to bother ‘Nana’ any further so I dropped it.
In summary, watch out for fakes!
To me it seems, especially after not getting a call back or comment, like the seller lied about who they were and once they were called out on their product came up with a very thin inconsistent lie and tried to hide.
I would imagine it was very surprising for him when I came to his door with full knowledge of his real name (I have to admit I’m kind of proud of the creative researching skills I used to locate him).
I called some of the local pawn shops and the ones I spoke with said they had no problems with fake iPhones but I am concerned that the seller said they had “three phones” and that there may be considerable pressure to make his money back on those fake phones whether a journalist knows he has them or not.
I ended up passing my story on to a detective with Sault Ste. Marie Police Services and he said the OPP were notified however I never heard anything more than that.
While I still think you can find a good bargain through online marketplaces, if you are buying something like an iPhone be absolutely confident you are purchasing the real thing.