From Apple to Rolex: On the Fake Watch Trail

Key actions to spot and avoid a fake watch scam: Internet Scambusters #926

Crooked watchmakers, who are so good at what they do, are making it tougher than ever to spot a fake watch.

At least that’s what’s happening at the luxury end of the timepiece market, but imposters are also faking Apple watches and even fitness trackers.

In this week’s issue we’ll tell you what to look out for to avoid the counterfeiters — and it’s not just about price.

Let’s get started…


From Apple to Rolex: On the Fake Watch Trail


From cheap and nasty knockoffs to carefully crafted timepieces, from lookalike high-end digital watches to dishonest fitness trackers — fake watches are a billion-dollar industry, churning out an estimated 40 million items ever year.

While most of the fakes target the established Rolex-type luxury end of the market, counterfeiters are turning fake wrist-worn digital electronics into a booming business. And, in some cases, they could be putting lives at risk by providing inaccurate data.

Fake Luxury Watches

Watches from the likes of Rolex, Omega, Cartier, Tag Heuer and Patek Philippe are such objects of desire that people have paid up to $1 million for a single timepiece. They’re not only stunning pieces of jewelry but, time has demonstrated, sound investments.

There are basically two types of buyers in the market for luxury watches — those with the money to buy them, who are at risk of being duped by fakes, and those who want the bling but don’t have the money, who actually want to buy authentic-looking knockoffs.

That’s all the latter group can afford and research suggests that between 20% and 30% of all online searches for top-name items are looking for fakes, which they prefer to call replicas.

They may not care about the true pedigree of their timepiece, but chances are they’re still being ripped off. One study found that replicas being sold in New York for $250 actually contained materials worth 27 cents! That included everything, including the bracelet, says Esquire magazine, which reported on the scam.

But it’s at the top of the market that the real and costly fakery is taking place. Three quarters of those estimated 40 million fake watches produced every year are Rolex models.

Some of them are chunky, poor efforts that feature cheap materials, spelling mistakes and incorrect Roman numerals. A watch connoisseur would spot them a mile off.

On the other hand, watchmakers who might be called true craftsmen if they were in a legitimate business, are being recruited by international scammers to produce watches that even some experts admit are difficult to distinguish from the real thing.

In one case, scammers tried to pass off a watch cobbled together from genuine Patek Philippe parts as a uniquely rare timepiece worth a small fortune. They didn’t succeed.

If you are planning to buy a luxury watch, especially a pre-owned model, here’s how to avoid getting scammed:

  • If you can, buy only from an established and reputable dealer. If buying from an individual, insist that the watch, including the movement, is inspected by an expert.
  • Check the model online. Does the one you’re planning to buy match the detailed description and illustrations of other same-model watches?
  • Check documentation. Beware if the watch comes without certification that should include a serial number.
  • Check the price. Look at auction reports and other online data. Experts say if the price is more than 20% below the going rate, it’s probably a fake.
  • Check the “feel.” If there are sharp edges or the watch feels lighter than it should, it’s a scam. Look for the hallmark if it’s gold.
  • Check the tick. Luxury watches are barely audible, reflecting the refined quality of moving parts. A loud tick signals a fake.
  • Don’t be rushed. Be on your guard if the seller is trying to pressure you for a quick deal — a common tactic used by scammers.

Fake Apple Watches and Fitness Trackers

As we said, it’s not just in the luxury market where watch counterfeiters are at work.

They’re also busy producing knockoffs of smart watches like Apple’s (though some might say the cost of Apple watches puts them in the luxury bracket too!). They may not have Apple branding but in many other respects they look like the genuine item.

According to a report a couple of months back on GeeksModo, an Apple-watching site, the company’s top selling watches are being cloned in China and sold at knockdown prices. Our own Scambusters research found Apple watch lookalikes selling for $60 to $80 on a website promoting “Apple watch clones.”

Obviously, if you buy your device from Apple or a licensed reseller, you’re in safe territory. And if you buy online or directly from China you may already realize you’re not getting the real thing. You may be happy with a clone, but you should make sure you’re not being deceived.

So, here are GeekModo’s suggested other actions you can take to check you’re buying the genuine item:

  • Check the thickness. Counterfeiters struggle to match Apple’s 10.5 mm.
  • Check that the digital crown control is at the top right of the device.
  • Check the heart sensors on the back — they should be circular, arranged in a diamond pattern.
  • Check the functionality. Does the device have all the right apps?
  • Check the packaging. Apple is known for the quality of its packaging, which tends to be minimalist and mostly white.

Also coming out of China are a stack of cheap fitness monitors with a dangerous fake element — a phony heart rate monitor.

Discovered only during the past few weeks, these devices, which sell for $10 or even $5, basically guess at your heart rate based on how much you’re moving. A genuine device uses fairly sophisticated blood flow light reflection technology to measure a pulse.

Clearly, this scam is potentially dangerous and, to make matters worse, the firm that discovered it, CNX Software, says the fraud is difficult to detect.

Perhaps, the best way is to recognize that a device that sells for just a few dollars is not likely to incorporate the sort of technology required for a genuine item. And go with a well-known brand.

Alert of the Week

As we warned in 2020 Census Scams Have Already Started, scammers are now out in force posing as Census workers.

They’re trying to steal personal information that can be used for identity theft and they may carry fake ID cards.

You can check the ID, which should have a watermark, and be careful about the information you provide. Genuine Census officials won’t ask for confidential information like Social Security and Medicare numbers or financial accounts. Nor will they ask for any kind of payment.

So, if your caller does any of these (even by phone) then they’re scammers.

Time to conclude for today — have a great week!