'I'm sick to my stomach over it': Woman scammed into buying fake iPhone online

Renee Duckworth bought an $800 iPhone 8 from a “legitimate looking ad” on the buy-and-sell website Kijiji. It not only turned out to be a fake iPhone, but it didn’t even function as a regular one.

The $800 phone was in a sealed box with a receipt attached

Renee Duckworth holds the fake iPhone she bought off an ad on Kijiji. (Courtesy of John Levantis)

It's the time of year when most people are filled with holiday cheer and a giving spirit. But Renee Duckworth has been hit by a Grinch.

She paid $800 for an iPhone 8 from a "legitimate-looking ad" on the buy-and-sell website Kijiji. It not only turned out to be a fake  — it didn't function as a regular phone, either.

"Even if this thing had worked, you'd feel crappy about it, but at least you'd have a phone," Duckworth told CBC Toronto. "But it doesn't even work. You can't even make it work."

A screenshot of the Kijiji ad, which Duckworth said looked "legitimate." (Courtesy of John Levantis)

The thing is, Duckworth considers herself a "savvy" consumer, and had gone through rigorous steps to check the authenticity.

"The price wasn't beyond belief but it was a good price. So it wasn't one of those too-good-to-be-true things," she said.

She also asked for the IMEI number, a type of 15-digit serial number unique to every mobile phone. She checked the number on a website that indicates whether the phone has been stolen, and this one checked out as "free and clear."

'No flags at all'

The seller, a "young guy" who "didn't seem edgy or nervous at all," asked to meet Duckworth in a Shoppers Drug Mart parking lot, she said.

"He was very polite and cordial," she said. "[There were] no flags, no flags at all."

Duckworth said the phone was in a sealed iPhone box, with a receipt taped to the top. The man said he had bought an extra one he realized he didn't need.

The fake iPhone came with an Apple store bag, box and receipt. (Courtesy of John Levantis)

"[He said] 'if you have any issues here's the bill of sale. You can take it back to Apple if you decide you don't want it,'" Duckworth said.

But when she went to her service provider to set up the phone, staff there told her it was a fake.

"As soon as they opened the box they knew it wasn't even an Apple iPhone. They told me it was different — there were things on it that were slightly different," she recalled.

"I'm sick to my stomach over it, and I'm sick to death of people taking advantage of other people."

A spokesperson for Apple previously told CBC Toronto that consumers looking to buy the company's products should always go to an authorized retailer.

Kijiji not responsible for users' actions

Asked about Duckworth's story and the company's policies for helping clients who are defrauded, Kijiji Canada said Saturday that "the safety and security of our 16 million monthly users is paramount and we are committed to maintaining a trusted and enjoyable community."

Kijiji states in its terms of use that it is not responsible for users' actions. Among the company's terms and conditions is a statement telling users that "you agree not to hold us responsible for things other users post or do."

However, in a statement to CBC Toronto, the company said it has a Community Support team devoted to detecting and preventing activity that violates its terms of use. It also urges users who have been defrauded to report their experience to the team, as well as to local police. The company will assist law enforcement agencies with their investigations, the statement said.

The company may remove fraudulent ads, or even ban a user "if necessary," the statement said.

'Inspect goods carefully'

Ken Whitehurst, the executive director of the Consumers Council of Canada, warned anyone buying off a "classified advertising site" like Kijiji that there is no law to protect the buyer from fraud.

"Don't accept the goods until you've tested them and you're satisfied that they work," Whitehurst told CBC Toronto. "Even then, if they don't work then you're unlikely to be able to return the goods."

He explained that, although conventional retail stores have higher price points, the consumer is paying for the protections offered by a return policy.

"You're going to need to take the time to inspect goods carefully that you buy through a seller on Kijiji ... you're trading off your time for savings."

Duckworth told her story hoping that someone else "will not get caught in the same trap."

"You're not as smart as you think you are," she warned.

After a pause, she added: "I will not make big purchases out of a parking lot," and let out a big laugh.

With files from Nicholas Boisvert