It’s no secret that the luxury watch industry, particularly the pre-owned market, has its fair share of swindlers. From unethical practices to outright illegal operations, fraudsters are out to rip-off unsuspecting buyers who are simply looking to get a great deal on a secondhand fine timepiece.
Since we make it our business at Heritage Watch Dealers to protect clients from such cons, we’re revealing what they are. So, if you’re in the market for a high-end timepiece, discover which are the most common luxury watch scams to watch out for and how to avoid them.
Scam #1: The Watch Does Not Exist
One scam that can be surprising to some is the phenomenon of illegitimate vendors selling watches that they do not have. It happens relatively frequently online since purchases are largely based on photographs with accompanying descriptions.
To set up fake listings, fraudulent sellers first steal watch images from legitimate sources. They then use these images on their listings, along with specs and descriptors, to pretend that they have the watch in stock. Once they find a trusting buyer, the scammers take the payment for the non-existent watch. Unfortunately for the buyer, the package is never shipped or an empty box lands on the doorstep.
Scam #2: The Watch Is A Counterfeit
The sale of counterfeit luxury watches is the scam that most people are familiar with and weary of. Although replica watches are not new, the quality of fakes is becoming increasingly better, which poses a real problem for the industry. There are some examples out there that are so close to the genuine product that it takes a real expert to inspect every millimeter of the watch to know it’s a fake.
Some sellers knowingly sell fake watches to unsuspecting buyers to rip them off. However, some honest sellers unintentionally sell fake watches because they simply do not know that they’re forgeries. Either way, the result is the same: the buyer unwillingly ends up with a replica when he or she paid for a genuine one.
Scam #3: The Watch Is A Frankenwatch
A Frankenwatch is a watch built with mismatched parts. For instance, the case is taken from one reference, the hands are taken from another, and the movement from yet another. Sometimes all the components are genuine but mashed up together in a way that is far from what the original watch is supposed to be. Conversely, some Frakenwatches only have one or two genuine components while the rest are replica parts.
Some sellers also fake a specific design detail—such as a rare and coveted dial execution—to bump up the price of an otherwise standard watch reference. There are many Frankenwatch flavors out there but what they have in common is that, unless the modifications have been clearly stated to the customer beforehand, they’re sold to scam the buyer.
Scam #4: The Watch Is In Poor Condition
Misinterpreting the condition of a timepiece is by far the most common scam in the vintage and pre-owned luxury watch market. It’s not uncommon for consumers to buy watches from listings that state “mint” or “like-new,” only to discover that the watch is not as advertised once it arrives. These dishonest sellers photograph the watch to explicitly hide flaws.
From faulty movements or chipped crystals to dinged cases and stretched bracelets, sellers who do not properly disclose the true condition of a watch are scamming buyers by charging more than the watch is worth.
Furthermore, vintage watch collectors favor watches that are as close to the original version as possible with minimal polishing and replacements. So a vintage watch that is described as “100% original condition” but has been refurbished is cheating the buyer.
How To Avoid Getting Scammed
Safely buying a luxury watch online requires a multi-factor approach. The most important among them is the “buy the seller,” which is to say that only purchase watches from trustworthy sources who stake their reputation on being honest and transparent. Along with that, here are a couple of best practices to follow to avoid getting scammed when buying a high-end watch.
Check Descriptions, Images, And Videos Closely
Clear and accurate product descriptions are key. Blatant errors, such as the wrong model, reference number, or production era means that the seller either does not understand the watch or does not care. Either way, it is best to move on.
Since you won’t get to see the watch in the metal when purchasing it online, it’s critical to be able to see clear photographs and videos. You want to see images of every possible angle of the watch including the dial, caseback, case lugs, case sides, bracelet, clasp, and if feasible, the movement. Also, make sure to do a reserve image search of the pictures to verify if they belong to the seller.
In addition to pictures, it’s important to get a video of the watch running—especially if it has complications such as a chronograph, dual time, and the like. Ask the seller to set the date and time of the watch before sending you a video to confirm that the watch is in the seller’s possession.
Verify The Seller’s Watch Selling History and Online Presence
You ideally want to do business with a seller that has had plenty of experience selling pre-owned luxury watches. Check their public history, whether it’s on eBay, Chrono24, or watch forums, to see if they specialize in watches and not just other luxury goods like handbags, shoes, or jewelry.
Legitimate sellers typically invest plenty of time and resources to build a professional online presence, including a website and social media accounts like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and sometimes, YouTube.
Looking at the seller’s online presence to see what kind of content they are producing can give you a good indication of what kind of business they’re running. Conversely, zero online activity should be a red flag and you should find another seller.
Also assess any feedback or ratings across multiple platforms to see if it’s recent, preferably less than 30 days. Legitimate accounts on eBay, forums, and Facebook have been known to get hacked and taken over by scammers selling fake or non-existent watches.
Insist On Open And Clear Communication
When making a significant purchase, it’s only natural to expect topnotch service. Reputable sellers will always go out of their way to ensure their clients are happy. A legitimate seller should be willing to speak with you on the phone or meet at a secure location such as a bank or police station.
Communication from the seller should always be timely and responsive during the inquiry stage; if not, it’s unlikely you’ll ever hear from them again after the sale is done.
Evaluate the After-Sales Details
Before pulling the trigger on a purchase, make sure you understand all the after-sales details. For example, does the seller offer priority shipping that is fully insured and tracked? And is the buyer or seller responsible for paying for it?
Likewise, does the seller provide a straightforward authenticity guarantee and a simple return policy? What about warranties and servicing? Understanding these details upfront can save you major headaches down the road and avoid feeling like you’ve been scammed.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to get cheated when buying a pre-owned luxury watch. To eliminate the risk, it’s always best to let professionals like Heritage Watch Dealers, who have had years of experience buying and selling secondhand timepieces, do the legwork for you.