Two men jailed for cheating pawnshops of $104,000 using fake watches
Three jailed for cheating seven pawnshops of $104,000
Psst, want copy watch?
Fake watches have become more sophisticated since shady characters used to sell them in back lanes.
They are so good that three men managed to trick seven pawn shops into accepting them and made off with $104,000.
The men were eventually caught.
Chen Zhiwei, 33, who was unemployed, was jailed for two years yesterday while his accomplice, Lam Chan Pieu, 31, was sentenced to three years in jail.
Another accomplice, Fong Kheng Yue, 44, was jailed for 18 months in August.
It started when Chen and Lam, who had been friends for 10 years, decided to con pawnshops using fake luxury Audemars Piguet watches. These bore the brand's trademark, were packaged in boxes and came with fake certificates of authenticity.
CONSPIRACY TO CHEAT
The court heard that in January, Lam told Chen that he was able to obtain counterfeit Audemars Piguet watches that could be pawned for more than $10,000 each. Lam added that Fong was already assisting in this conspiracy to cheat.
Fong would pledge the watches at the pawnshops and act as a guarantor. After observing Fong for a while, Chen was ready to try his luck. Lam would drive Chen to the various pawnshops and pick up the money after each transaction.
Chen was promised 10 per cent of the proceeds, the same cut that Fong was offered, with the remainder going to Lam.
Between Jan 13 and 26, the men conned seven pawnshops across Singapore of $104,000. The highest they got for a counterfeit watch was $22,000.
On at least two occasions, they used someone else's identity card to register the guarantee of the transaction.
They also attempted to con a pawnshop in Temple Street of $18,000 on Feb 2.
Chen pocketed $9,600 in total and spent the money on gambling and personal expenses.
On Feb 3, an appraiser at one of the pawnshops made a police report and the three men were arrested within two days.
Yesterday, Chen and Lam turned up in a district court and were sentenced to two and three years' jail, respectively.
Heng Seng Pawnshop assistant Lee Yonggui told The New Paper that he and his colleagues were fooled by the conmen as 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 greater care to scrutinise each watch, he said.
For 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 pawnshop 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.
Tell-tale signs in fakes usually minor details
Telling a real and fake watch apart is not easy, said watch dealers 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 dissembling 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.