The iPhone 5 launch date is almost here and consumers are buzzing with excitement. Whether you’re a disciple of the late Steve Jobs or a skeptic who rooted for Samsung, everyone is waiting for those exclusive first-look product reviews to reveal how the real iPhone 5 stacks up against the Mac rumors – everyone, that is, except the fraudsters. Counterfeiters and cybercriminals are waiting to exploit you while you’re caught up in all the blogosphere hype and iPhone 5 pre-order mayhem. Industry analysts predict that the iPhone 5 launch will shatter previous sales records. At Scambook, we’re expecting a sharp rise in Apple and iOS-related fraud schemes, specifically iPhone phishing spam, smishing attempts like apple.ca.nocost.cc, and sales of counterfeit phones. September alone could see as many as 1 million fake iPhone 5 units sold to unsuspecting shoppers on the secondary market.
So if you’re eager to be an early adopter and upgrade to the iPhone 5 at launch, here are the facts you need to know to shop safely and avoid being ripped off. Scambook has identified three main types of iPhone 5 “iFraud” based on hundreds of consumer complaint reports we’ve received in the past year. Although we’re predicting new cons will emerge after the iPhone 5 is widely available, the core traits of these schemes won’t change significantly. Learn the warning signs and follow Scambook’s expert safety tips when you buy your iPhone 5.
Fake Phone iFraud: If It Looks Like an iPhone 5 and Walks Like an iPhone 5…
Counterfeit electronics are a billion dollar industry. According to one estimate cited by CNET, 10% of electronic and digital products sold around the world are fake. Apple products are a favorite target for counterfeiters. Previous iPhone, iPod and iPad releases have all been tarnished by bogus product sales. In the state of California alone, thousands of counterfeit iPhones were seized by police in 2010 and 2011, and it’s believed that the fakers earned at least $7 million in profits before they were caught. In China, counterfeiting is such a booming market that some criminals have even opened fake brick-and-mortar Apple stores.
It’s easy to see why Apple products are forged so frequently. They’re popular, they’re pricey and best of all, they’re often scarce – especially right after that much-anticipated launch date. You want to be the first on your block to own the new “must have” iPhone 5, right? Be careful. Fraudsters love to profit by exploiting early adopters.
When the original iPhone launched in 2007, over half of all U.S. Apple Stores sold out in just 1 week. Each new iPhone generation has broken the sales record of its predecessor. Industry analysts predict that the iPhone 5 will sell between 6 and 10 million units by the end of September alone. If 10% of all electronics are counterfeit, that means 1 million fake iPhone 5s could make their way into shoppers’ homes this month. Fake iPhone 5s and iPhone 5 accessories have already been spotted online, so it’s only going to get worse once the real thing is available. You might spend hundreds of dollars on a glitchy knock-off or even receive an empty box.
Scambook Safety Tip: Only buy an iPhone 5 from a trusted, reputable source such as Apple.com, an Apple Store or a certified retail seller like AT&T, Sprint or Verizon. This is the best way to avoid ending up with a bogus phone. If you must turn to the secondary market to get your iPhone 5, use eBay and only buy from domestic sellers with a positive feedback rating. Make sure that the seller follows eBay’s rules and accepts payment via PayPal – if they want to use an outside “escrow service” or they ask you to send the payment via Western Union, they’re probably fraudsters. They’ll send you a fake iPhone 5 or simply take your money and run. Search for the seller’s name on Scambook before you complete an auction, just to be safe.
Online iFraud: Click Here for Leaked Pics and Secret News
Apple has always been notoriously tight-lipped about its new products, fueling a culture of marketing mystique and diehard consumer fans who clamor for news. The bad guys have learned to take advantage of this secrecy to craft detailed Apple iPhone 5 hoaxes. Sometimes, these hoaxes are harmless pranks to bait the super-fans and geek blogs. Last month, for example, Swedish graphic design firm Day4 “leaked” renderings of a proprietary asymmetrical iPhone 5 screw and media outlets like Wired and Cult of Mac picked it up as a real story.
But fake leaks can carry far worse consequences for consumers. At Scambook, we received our first complaint about an iPhone 5 scheme in June 2011. This complaint reported a Facebook message that claimed to link to a special secret announcement from Apple. When our Scambook member clicked the link, they were directed to a website that immediately installed viruses on their PC.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated incident. Fraudsters regularly send spam messages on Twitter, Facebook and via email to lure unsuspecting consumers with other phony Apple announcements or even “exclusive leaked pictures” of the iPhone 5. If the message doesn’t hijack your computer with malware, it will direct you to a special survey that requires your credit card information or Social Security number to access the promised news.
Scambook Safety Tip: These spam messages, special survey websites and emails are all phishing attempts. Phishing is a type of online fraud that’s almost as old as the internet itself. It’s versatile and constantly evolving, but the good news is that phishing is still easy to guard against. Keep anti-virus software installed and up-to-date on your computer, never open unsolicited email attachments and always be very careful clicking on links to unknown websites. Even if the link is coming from your friend, that friend’s account may have been hacked. If you have any doubts about a message with a link, write down the website, or some of the message’s keywords, and search for them on Scambook.
Mobile iFraud: You’ve Been Selected, Reply Now to Beta Test & Keep iPhone 5
Most of the complaints we’ve received about the iPhone 5 prior to launch concern unsolicited text message offers, also known as smishing (“SMS text” + “phishing”). These messages entice recipients to send personal information, visit a malicious website or complete a bogus survey by offering too-good-to-be-true free offers. Beginning in January 2012, Scambook began receiving numerous complaints about iPhone 5 smishing texts.
One of the most popular smishing tactics tells potential victims that Apple is looking for people to beta test the new iPhone 5. They direct recipients to websites like apple.ca.nocost.cc, IAppleTestAndKeep.com, OffersForUSA.com, CellTestandKeep.com and iPhone5betas.com, which then phish for the user’s private data or attempt to infect the user’s computer. If you’re not on a wireless data plan that includes free texting, the user will also be charged for these messages.
In some cases, users respond to the text and find themselves automatically registered for a mysterious mobile service that hits them with a monthly fee.
Scambook Safety Tip: A legitimate company like Apple will never recruit product testers through random, unsolicited text messages. Beware any text message that directs you to an external link or requires any action on your part to redeem a prize or a special offer. If you receive a text from apple.ca.nocost.cc or any other website you don’t recognize, here’s what you do: ignore it, report it on Scambook (include a picture of the text, if possible) and notify your cell phone company. Do not reply, even if the message directs you to text “UNSUBSCRIBE” or “#END”. These messages are sent en masse to phone numbers generated by a computer program. The hackers behind these schemes don’t know that your number is active, but if you reply, they’ll know they’ve hit a live target. You’ll receive even more spam text messages and risk unwanted charges.
The Bottom Line
Don’t let the iPhone 5 hype cloud your judgment. A secretive company like Apple won’t recruit product testers by text message, and when exclusive information does leak out, you’ll find it on major news blogs. It won’t be sent to you as an email attachment or an online survey posted to your Facebook wall. Be aware that fraudsters always ride the wave of consumer popularity to try to take advantage of you. Make sure you don’t lose your hard-earned money buying an illegitimate product. If you can’t get the iPhone 5 from the Apple Store on launch day, be patient. It’s a drag to wait for that must-have electronic item, but paying $500 or more for a plastic rectangle is even worse.
Scambook will be keeping an eye on iPhone 5 fraud, so check back here for future updates and news. If you want to report a counterfeit iPhone 5, phishing, smishing or other fraud associated with Apple’s brand, click here to submit a complaint.