The iPad Clone Hunt: Greed Does Not Equal Good Karma

The great iPad Clone Hunt begins

Editor’s Note: a few weeks ago a Best Tablet Review reader asked us about the slew of iPad clones selling cheaply through Alibaba.com. He was looking for something affordable but functional. It wasn’t the first (or last) time we’ve been asked about these cheap “iPads” and we responded with the customary “buyer beware.” Well our author David decided to take the plunge and document the happenings… for science! And a pretty good read. What resulted is something easily labeled a cautionary tale.
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by David Parsons

I tried to buy an iPad from China; buying it from the same factory that makes them for Apple. I assumed that they are just slipping a few hundred out the back door and selling them for a higher (retail) price than Apple’s wholesale price.

What I really wanted a Windows 7 tablet, but there aren’t any available for a decent price, or a decent clock speed, as of this writing. There are a lot of promises, but I want/need it NOW. I am self-employed as a third-party vehicle inspector. I offer my experience and expertise to buyers of mid-to-high end used luxury vehicles that find their vehicles here in the hot, sunny, rust-free Phoenix, Arizona Metro area. I use Win XP at home, and use MS Word for my 5 page report that I email to my customer. I could really save a bunch of time and money by eliminating the paper form that I fill out at the dealer’s lot, not to mention the printer ink, wear and tear on my old printer, and the additional time required to transcribe the written notes to the desktop. I really don’t want to have to relearn a bunch of new commands and the intricacies of iWork or Pages. But, with the iPad becoming readily available, I thought I would look around on the Internet to see what kind of deal I could find. Maybe learning something new wouldn’t be that hard.

After performing the de rigeur Google search, I happened upon the Alibaba website. In just a few minutes, I discovered a veritable plethora of iPad clones. Plus a few that claimed to be real iPads, just cheaper. I sent emails to several of the companies, asking questions about the truthfulness of their advertised claims and inquiring about sample prices and volume discounts. Not that I have the money to buy more than one (the car business SUCKS right now), but thankfully the Chinese don’t know that. I received several replies, each successive email getting cheaper and cheaper. Finally, I got the email I was looking for.

Dear David Parsons,

Thank you for your inquiry. I am Amanda from . We are professional supplier for electronic products at competitive price. Now I will tell you some information that you are [interested in]:

Original IPad Wi-Fi 64GB—-95usd/pc

Our price is depended on your quantity, more order more discount: if you buy 3 PCs, the price is $90/PC + 2 PCs free gift + free shipping fee. If you buy 5 PCs, the price is $80/PC + 4 PCs free gift + free shipping fee.

International warranty time is 2 years.The delivery time is 1-2 days. We will send goods to you as a gift box and we can write less declared value for you, then you needn’t pay tax .

We have many advantages:
1. No limited order. We accept mixed order, sample order and drop shipping is available.
2. Oayment method: Bank Transfer and Western Union / Money Gram.
3: Door to Door shipment by EMS /DHL/UPS /FEDEX/TNT. You can received the products in 3-7 days.

Best regards,
Amanda

Well good news! Single unit prices had shrunk from $400/unit to just $95/unit. Bingo! Sold! Reading the small print, I noticed that the company, Shenzen ai ling bai Electronics Technologies Co, Ltd, was based in Shenzen (red flag!). They did not accept payment through PayPal, only bank transfer or Western Union (red flag again!). To further fuel my greedy appetite, Ai ling bai offered me an incredible deal. Buy 3 of their iPads, get 2 more as a free gift, plus free shipping. Or, even better, buy 5, get 4 more for free and free shipping (need I mention 3rd red flag?). And they will write down the declared value of the items, to lower taxes. Who wouldn’t fall in love with such a great deal, eh? But, I thought I would be cautious. They have a simple website, but the icons along the bottom don’t work, especially the PayPal icon. Hmmm, I kept digging. No negative entries in a Google search for their name. The pictures look like they were lifted directly from Apple’s website. Their email address is a Hotmail account. Hmmmm. I dithered for 2 days, hosting an internal debate over whether to pull the trigger on this deal. You know the one, white angel on one shoulder, saying “No, no, don’t do it,” while the red angel on the other shoulder is urging, “yeah, go for it, dude. It’s what you’ve been wanting, right?”

Hi Dear,
The total is $95 USD + $30 USD (shipping fee)= $125 USD

Give me your address, full name and telephone number and we can send the goods to you.
Best regards,
Amanda

I went for it. Sent the money through Western Union, sent the email alerting them that their USA sucker had sent the $135 (with WU’s fees and shipping). I wasn’t going to potentially buy several of these units until I got one in my hands for evaluation. Next, I got my confirmation email from ai ling bai, thanking me for the business along with my tracking number. It wouldn’t show up in the system for 2 days, though (I’m swimming in red flags at this point).

I received another email with my tracking number and the contact number blotted out. They sent it EMS (China Post)? Damn it. I specifically asked for FedEx. That’s what I thought that I was paying for. I’m sure that FedEx operates in Shenzen. It seems stupid to send the package EMS, then hand off to FedEx, where, at the port?

So, now I’m 3 days post-scam. I’m out $135, no iPad/iPad clone, and furiously, mentally kicking myself in the ass for doing such a stupid thing. I sent another email to Ms Amanda, gently reminding her that I paid for an item that didn’t look like it was on its way to me. I didn’t want to start hurling epithets quite yet. Not until until I was sure that I had been taken for a rube.

David L. Parsons to Amanda

I’m not getting an iPad, am I? I trusted you, and you failed me. Now I see why I was told not to conduct business with Chinese companies.

Ms. Amanda ignored my next two emails.

I decided to email the US Embassy in Beijing — perhaps someone there would know of the reputation of companies in the Shenzhen area — and politely confirm that I screwed myself out of my money by being greedy. After my short explanation, I asked if someone there in the Economic Section might make a courtesy phone call to the company on my behalf. Perhaps the knowledge that the US Embassy was aware of their little fraud would be enough for the company to give my money back?

Hi Dear,

Nice day. Yes, you will get [it]. You can check online tomorrow (June 30) because these days here rain heavily so EMS delays the time. Sorry,

Amanda

Evidently, rickshaws don’t have four wheel drive. Or operate well in the rain.

Now, I am on Day 6 of ”As My Stomach Churns,” a melodrama of my own making. Hmmm, their quoted shipping time of 3-7 days is quickly running out, like sand through the hourglass… time to check the tracking number one last time and hope that the iPad Fairy will sprinkle magical pixie dust on my shipment to make it appear.

Day 7 and no dice. Tracking number still appears to be invalid and no response yet from the US Embassy in Beijing. Wonder if there is a consulate, or junior embassy, closer to Shenzhen?

Now it is Day 8. After going to the movies (Grownups, hilarious!) to help forget about this, I return home and check my email. Before I sign off for the day, I figure I will check the tracking number just one more time. I’m already resigned to the loss of my money. I guess I am just hoping against hope that the iPad Fairy came through…

Unbelievably, the magic pixie dust works. The tracking number pops up. My package has been received by EMS and has been sent to the sorting facility. The mind reels! Now I am glad that I didn’t send a kiss-off email, full of nasty epithets that, had my mother heard me say them, would have gotten my mouth washed out with a case of Lava soap. Now, I am ignoring emails. I want to wait until the iClone arrives in my hot, sweaty hands before I say or do anything more. I’m just praying that they haven’t sent me an Eken M003. Although, at $135, I’m paying less than most people have paid. Locally, a guy on Craigslist is selling them for $260. He’s using a picture of a real iPad, probably copied from Apple’s website, to represent it. If a buyer did his homework, it would be pretty easy to see that the Eken M003 has a white border, not a black one (in all of the pictures I’ve ever seen).

Ok, Day 9 of the soap opera “As My Stomach Churns”. Except that my stomach as settled down quite a bit. According to EMS, my package has passed through customs. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

Day 10. The package has been stuck at the “despatch center” for two days since it was released by Customs. I wonder what the holdup is? Probably just the enormous volume of shipments. I’m guessing that the package will be trucked to a port that serves Hong Kong, which is nearby. Once it gets to Hong Kong, it will possibly be shipped by cargo plane to the USA.

I don’t know what to do now. Email Ms. Amanda? Nothing she can do now as the package is out of her hands. Guess I will just have to exercise some patience…

Now on Day 15… I figured that EMS wouldn’t have anymore updates since they handed over the package to Customs. Well, I was wrong. EMS still has tracking, all the way to the US Port of Entry — most likely Los Angeles.

Well, perhaps my wait is about to end. If the package was sent to the port of Los Angeles, then it should be only two days to Phoenix. I’m betting that EMS has handed off to the US Postal Service. Originally, I asked for FedEx, but I guess I can’t whine now. If this turns out to be a real iPad, I’m going to buy more. But I’m going to insist on payment through PayPal, first off. It feels kinda scummy using Western Union. Besides that, PayPal offers some protection for my money. Secondly, I’m going to insist on FedEx or UPS. It’s worth the extra money for the accountability.

Day 16, and an unpleasant surprise has arrived from China.

Instead of the expected Tablet, I received a European Nokia 7260 with a European charger! Very useful in the USA. Now I’m really ticked. I’ve gone from euphoric, to disappointed, to hopeful, to ticked. I still haven’t heard from the US Embassy in Beijing. They probably have too many other problems to futz with my insignificant drivel.

Here is my email back to Ms Amandaamanda:

I have received my package and I am very disappointed. I received a Nokia cellphone, instead of the promised iPad WiFi 64GB Tablet PC. The cell phone came with a European charger, making it unusable in the USA. I choose to believe, at this time, that this was a communications error within your company. However, the thought of fraud has entered my mind. Since your company has made this error, I believe that you should pay for the shipping to return this unwanted item. I also strongly request that your company send me the item i paid for. I have copied the email that you originally sent me as proof that the miscommunication was not my mistake. I have attached three pictures of the package that I received as proof of what I erroneously received. I strongly request that you send me the Tablet PC that I paid for. If your company cannot comply, then please refund my money, except for the shipping charges. Your website displays an icon for PayPal; please refund this way. My email address is my PayPal address. If there are any questions, please do not hesitate to call me at anytime during your work day. Shenzhen is 15 hrs ahead of Arizona, but it does not matter. Use an English speaking person to talk to me. Thank you for your immediate attention to this serious matter.

I used Google Translate to also send this message in Simplified Chinese, so that there is no excuse for a language barrier. I am still refraining from hurling epithets, visions of Lava soap or not. I retain the right to hurl at the very end, when my money is not being returned, and I have basically been told to kiss off, that’s all I am getting. I will issues updates as they become available. Stay tuned, if your stomach can handle it, to the next installment of “As My Stomach Churns”.

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15 Responses to “The iPad Clone Hunt: Greed Does Not Equal Good Karma”

  1. Man, don’t you know your W.C. Fields? Never Give A Sucker An Even Break. You asked for it, you got it.

  2. That’s a great story. What a kicker at the end, lol!!

  3. Big desl! I sent $17,000 to the IRS last year and didn’t get a thankyou or where it went. Whats $135.

  4. Did you use the Alibaba escrow system?

  5. @Moogies-no, I didn’t. Ai Ling Bai insisted on Western Union. I have since seen several complaints on alibaba.com site, all around the same time as mine. So they got a bunch of us.
    @Mike Cane-That’s the Toyota song! But you’re right, i got what was coming to me alright.

  6. It’s easy to sit back and be critical of your decision to pull the trigger on a shady deal, but everyone (myself included) has been a sucker at some point in their life.

  7. What ended up happening? Did/Will they honor an exchange? Any hope in sight? Good luck!

  8. it’s like putting a gun to your head, trying to doany sort of business with the Chinese.
    I sent a moneygramm to China some days ago, my wife has tried to collect the money a number of times.
    it is supposed to be an easy way of sending money, so I was told at my post office in the UK.
    the first time she took the special number to the bank, they told her, they could not do it, she needed a bank account, the second time, the excuse was, it is only an 8 digit number, you need a 10 didgits.
    so while writing this letter, my American friend is in the bank in China, with my wife, not having much luck I’m afraid. his words to me were, don’t ever try to send money via money gram to China, unless you do notwant to see it again.
    he continued, what normaly takes maybe 5 minutes to do in the west, would often take an whole day to do in China, if your lucky.
    they have no idea of proper business sense.
    from my dealings that I and also some of my American friends have had with the Chinese, our advise is, don’t bother!
    one only has to look on the internet and one will find plenty of information regarding dealings and communication with the Chinese.
    they are a lovely people, but God, they have no idea of how to do business as we do in most other Countries.
    and now it seems, they cannot even honour a simple moneygram transaction.
    I have just phoned my friend in China, regarding my money gramm, he told me to call back in about 3 hours.
    A simple money gram transfer has so far taken 5 days, and still no result.
    by the way, the guy who is at this moment trying to help my Chinese wife get her money, has also been stung, trying to do business with the Chinese for thousands.
    needless to say, he is a lot more careful now. the Chinese are experts at making fakes and cheating
    they are still a developing Country.
    maybe in another 300 years we will see some better changes from within China.

  9. it is not the Chinese, it is you – ignorant greedy Americans. Do you ever read? Otherwise, you’d remember “Ali Baba”

  10. Sorry to say this but anyone who purchases from a supplier in China who does not accept Paypal should expect to be scammed. I am a electronic supplier sourcing products from china and know 1st hand that there are as many scams as there are real deals, especially from alibaba who have no idea who is listed on their site, and anyone listed on there is able to get a gold supplier/checked rating with no checks done on authenticity. If they dont accept paypal dont buy from them. I only go through large scale companies (pandawill etc.). Another idea is to find out their IP address (easily done if you know how), you’ll find a few live in Nigeria as I have discovered, offering IPhones at $99USD each, what a joke – BUYER BE WARNED, do your homework, google the company, its amazing what you can find out about them just through google alone (p.s – best site ive seen in a while is – super replicas, google them, nice site, but simply a well organised scam)

  11. Have you never heard of Ali Baba and forty theives

  12. I’m a Nigerian prince with $8bn in an offshore account and would love to share it with you for the small fee of $7bn …

  13. I am from China, also golden seller on alibaba. When you get fraud, it is better for you to contact alibaba security department, and report your issues to them. It would be helpful.

  14. I have considered buying one of this cheapy Ipads at chinesse sellers, but I was afraid of something like this could happen.
    Finally did they send you a response at the end? what happened? got your money back?

  15. I was IN China, about 18 months back, visiting Beijing, Xi’an (home of the terracotta army) and Shanghai. I decided beforehand that I would buy an Android tablet while I was there – specifically a “Zenithink” ZT180. The old Silk Market in Beijing is carved up into many dozens of franchise stalls, many of them selling electronics. Each stall is manned (or “womanned?”) by someone who seems to have learned English by listening to videos of the Chuckle Brothers. (“Hellooo?”) None knows anything at all about the products they sell – ALL of which are emblazoned with the Apple Logo; they’ve been told by their employers that what they’re selling ARE Apple iPads, and pointing out to them the Android logo that appears on screen when the machine is turned on is a waste of time. Same for iPhones; Huawei makes a number of Android phones sold by the likes of Orange and O2 under their own brand name. They’re GOOD phones! But, in China, they’re ignored. Everyone wants a cosmetic copy of the iPhone 4 (that in reality is a 2.5G phone with Java and WIFI) because it LOOKS like an iPhone. My guess was that China’s telecom infrastructure is outdated; “smartphones” are all about transmitting data. Getting a REAL iPhone in China would be like buying a Ferrari in a country that has no real roads.