Replica Watch Bust in Singapore
Many Criminal are selling replica watches. Some, however, are attempting to sell replica watches (such as Rolex, Omega, TAG Heuer, Breitling, Omega, Vacheron Constantin, Franck Muller, Hublot, and others) as authentic watches and are scamming unsuspecting buyers including jewelers and pawn shops out of thousands of dollars per transaction.
Hey, do you want a replica watch? Replica watches have become more sophisticated since shady criminals used to sell them in back alleys. Now, they are so good that three men managed to trick 7 pawn shops into accepting them and made off with $104,000 in Singapore Currency. The men (of course) were eventually caught.
Chen Zhiwei, 33, who was not employed, was imprisoned for two years in October while his cohort, Lam Chan Pieu, 31, was sentenced to 3 years in prison. Another accomplice, Fong Kheng Yue, 44, was Sentenced to 18 months in August.
This all began when Chen and Lam, who had been friends for ten years, decided to con pawn shops using replica Audemars Piguet timepieces. These watches bore the brand's trademark; were packaged in boxes bearing counterfeit trademarks; and came with forged certificates of authenticity.
CONSPIRACY TO DEFRAUD
The Court heard that in January, Lam told Chen that Lam was able to obtain fake Audemars Piguet watches that could be pawned for more than $10,000 each.
Lam also stated that Fong was previously assisting in this conspiracy to defraud.
Fong would pawn the watches at the pawn shops and act as the guarantor. After watching Fong for a while, Chen was ready to see if he could pull it off himself. Lam would often drive Chen to the various pawn shops and pick up the cash after each scam.
Chen was promised 10% of the profit... the same cut that Fong was offered... with the remainder going to Lam. Between Jan 13 and 26, the men conned 7 pawn shops across Singapore of $104,000. The most cash they got for a counterfeit watch was $22,000. On at least 2 occasions, these criminals used a fake identity card to conduct the guarantee of the transaction. They also attempted to con a pawn shop in Temple Street of $18,000 on Feb 2.
Chen netted $9,600 in total and spent the money on gambling and personal expenses. On Feb 3, an appraiser at one of the pawn shops made a Police Report and the 3 men were arrested within 2 days. In October, Chen and Lam were in a District Court and were Sentenced to 2 and 3 years in Prison, respectively.
Heng Seng Pawn shop assistant Lee Yonggui told The New Paper that he and his colleagues were tricked by the con men because the watches looked authentic.
"We don't see many customers coming in with Audemars Piguet watches. We weren't as experienced in knowing how to check the watch. So we fell for it," he said in Mandarin. They now take much greater care to scrutinize each watch, he said. As an example, they will open up watches... with the customer's permission... to check the parts inside as well as get a second opinion from a watch shop, if necessary. "But pawn shop assistants are usually under pressure to close a deal," he said.
"Customers don't wait around for you to check and inspect a watch. If you take too long, you lose a customer. So we have to try our best and rely on our experience. It's not easy," he said.
Telltale signs in replicas are usually in the minor details. "Telling a real and fake watch apart is not easy," said a watch dealer contacted by The New Paper. Mr Russell Tan of HJ Luxury said: "Some of these counterfeit watches are so high in quality that you cannot tell just by looking at the casing alone. Some of them are even made with good quality stainless steel."
Mr Tan, who has been in the industry for 25 years, said he recently dealt with an Audemars Piguet watch that a customer had brought in. "After disasssembling it and spending 45 minutes checking every part, I found there were minor imperfections on some parts so I had to use my instinct and I didn't buy it," he said.
Mr Alvin Lye, who runs Monster Time Gallery, also said he has to pay attention to the tiniest of details. For example, if he were inspecting a Rolex GMT watch, he would check how the hands are stacked.
Mr Alfred Png, who runs Png Watch Dealer, told The Straits Times in July that while replicas have tell-tale signs that set them apart from genuine ones, these often boil down to tiny details - for instance, the lustre on a screw or slight difference in the dial colour.
Mr Tan said: "These counterfeit watch agents would buy a genuine one and bring back to their factories where they dissemble the watch, copy each piece and manufacture copies that can be 99 per cent realistic."
The safest is when customers produce a servicing receipt from the original watch makers. "Like our customers, we also want assurance too," he said.
Replica watches such as Omega, Breitling, Rolex, TAG Heuer, Movado, Franck Muller, Audemars, Piguet, and Hublot are illegal. The best advice we can give is to always buy your watches from authorized retailers or reputable online timepiece sellers.