We have done a few buyer’s guides in the past – and wil continue to do so in the future – but this is going to be a bit different. I am not going to talk about sleeper watches, give you tips about what to look or where to look. This is a different kind of topic and actually could be titled Buyer’s Beware Guide. I will talk about scammers.

Recently I came across a story that actually made my blood boil. In short: scammer advertises a watch on an on-line watch market platform. He sets his country to Italy (when in fact according to his IP he’s based in the United Kingdom) and lists a Patek Philippe timepiece for an interesting price. Not an extreme bargain, but one that could actually be a good deal. This seller corresponds with the buyer and gives him a Romanian bank account number. The buyer – for whatever reason – is not suspicious and wires the money. The correspondence is now over, the email address is non-existing anymore. No money, no watch. End of story.

There are a number of questions you could ask of course: Why was the buyer not suspicious? How come that when you know the name of the account holder, there is nothing you can do legally? Why does a website allow these scammers to list their watches? I am unable to answer these questions, as they are very complicated (and legal) issues. My goal is to spread the word within the watch community about scammers that operate like this and scammers in general. I was a victim of a scammer from Germany many years ago so believe me when I say this: I feel for these people. So I gathered a couple of points, guidelines of you like, which might help you double check the person you are dealing with.

1. Always buy the seller/buyer

This was the term I came across very often when I was still active on watch forums. The best advice anybody can ever give you. Make sure you know whom you are dealing with. The person should be traceable. This is 2015 after all. We have Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, watch forums etc. Be cautious especially if you are selling/buying a high-end watch. People who have this kind of money are often listed on company profiles, mentioned in articles, associated with businesses. Keep an eye out.

2. If the deal is too good to be true it probably is

Do some research regarding market prices (eBay, Chrono24, watch forums etc) and if the watch is too cheap, think twice before you act. It is an ancient tactic to lure potential buyers in with good prices of desired watches. Most of the time they do not even have the watch. They either download photos from the internet or use stock photos. There might also be hidden costs like service charges (and don’t forget about customs). Now it doesn’t look that good anymore, right?

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3. Payment

Make sure you pay with a method that can give you some form of insurance (or at least up until a certain amount), like PayPal. Please be advised that if you pay with PayPal ‘gift’ opening a dispute is not always possible. You can also use a credit card and open a dispute with the card company. Most of these scams are the result of an international bank transfer, which is irreversible and does not give you any insurance at all.

4. Do not rely on the law enforcement

One would think that if you know the (real) name of the seller, the name of the bank account holder (most of the time these are people used/forced to open an account on their names) and the address you are safe. If anything happens you can go to the police. The reality is unfortunately a tad bit more complicated than that. Police forces cannot operate outside of the country and to be fair, for a case up to €5000 they won’t and can’t do much. Trust me, I know what I’m saying as I have seen many cases like this. You can report it but it is very unlikely that they can get your money back.

5. Make a document trail

From your emails to your phone calls, Whatsapp or even receiving/shipping a parcel everything should be saved/documented. Take photos, save the emails and do videos of opening and closing the package. It is also a good thing if you receive the parcel to have it opened in front of the courier as that person can act as a witness later on.

6. Ask for photos, lots of photos

A very common tactic is the something I call the simultaneous sale. So the scammer finds a real seller and asks for photos of the watch. He then alters these images (sometimes even uses the real sellers name as his own) and uploads them as his own watch. If a buyer contacts him for more images he contacts the real seller for the same images. As soon as the scammer receives them from the real seller he passes them on to the buyer as his photos. The buyer is convinced that the deal is cool. Wires the money and the damage is done. Ask the sellers to send you photos of the watch in front of the monitor with your letter, or write your name and email address on a piece of paper. Best thing would be however is to give the seller two different times he should set his watch to, plus you name and address on a paper in front of your email. Useful tip: when you receive photos from the seller, download the images to your computer and in the file info look for the original date the photo was taken. If it was before you even asked for the image it’s either a scammer or someone who does not care about the date on his camera/iPhone.

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7. E-mail address

Pay attention to email addresses. If it is a gmail or yahoo address (which is the case in most scam deals) and the name is some stupidity it can be suspicious. While some people use different addresses for business, private and hobby and they might have just opened one address for the sale of the watch it can be an indicator that something is not right. Also google the email address to see if anything is ‘there’.

8. Photoshop

Some scammers use Photoshop or similar software to alter images. If you ask for an ID next to the watch make sure that it is not photoshopped next to it. Always ask for very high-resolution images and zoom in as much as you can to see if there is anything funny looking about them. You would be surprised how basic sometimes these mistakes are and how easy to spot them.

9. Trace

There are certain ways and software, which allow you to trace the email senders IP address. In recent cases Romanian scammers living in London, UK were stating that they were living in Italy or France – but it could be any other country of course – and got stolen large amount of money. If you ask them why the IP is different there is always answer like ‘I travel a lot on business and I was here and there when I sent you the mail’ but in most cases it is not true. Not to mention that if you look at the IP it will most likely be the same.

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10. Always think before you act

We love watches and are always on the hunt. Scammers know this and abuse us by this. Do not be reckless. Always think your next move through. You can do many things before the damage is done, but your options are limited afterwards. Sometimes people only start to think after they are ripped off. They say ‘Oh I should have paid more attention’ or ‘I should have thought about this earlier’. Always think first and don’t let your passion drive you instead of your sense.

I’m sure we could add a few other points (please feel free to do so in the comments section below, so others can benefit as well) but these are the most important topics in my book. If you follow these guidelines and act accordingly you will make a scammer’s life much more difficult. If the deal does not go through because the seller/buyer does not want to cooperate, then it is meant to be like that. Never for a second feel sorry for it because it is probably karma. There will be a next great deal waiting for you. But please always remember: better to be safe then sorry.

Share this among your friends, fellow collectors and watch lovers and help to educate each other.

(Note: Image from HackForLab)

Balázs Ferenczi

Balázs joined Fratello Watches in 2014 and he has been a fan of watches as long as he can remember. His passion for watches really took off in 2007 when he purchased his first fine Swiss timepiece. From 2007 up to recently, he was also an active and involved member of a number of on-line watch communities. Balázs has a weak spot for vintage Omega watches and vintage watches in general.