A police officer stood on Ninth Avenue at 39th Street on a warm Monday afternoon and saw a man trying to sell a stranger a new, still-in-the-box iPhone 4 on the street, for the too-good-to-be-true price of $150. The man’s name was Iaron Baskerville, 62, and court records indicate that when the officer approached to arrest him for operating without a vendor’s license, Mr. Baskerville said something curious by way of defense.
“The phone,” Mr. Baskerville said, “is fake.”
So what did it look like? Officers opened the box, which looked authentic, and found an odd-looking, poor-boy stepbrother of the real thing.
“I have an iPhone,” said Sgt. John O’Connell, 37, with the nearby 10th Precinct, describing the afternoon last month. “Immediately, you know it’s not a real phone. The screen’s smaller. The buttons don’t fit right. It was more of a box. It didn’t feel as sturdy.”
Then somebody went to turn it on, and everybody got a surprise. The thing turned on. “The screen wouldn’t have the same color,” Sergeant O’Connell recalled. “The apps weren’t as clear.”
Sorry — apps?
“You would touch an app, and it would come up,” he said. “It had a calendar app. It was blurry, but it came up.”
The officers — who work in a cramped, fifth-floor walk-up office with a bulky cathode-ray television and strips of flypaper hanging from the ceiling — had seen nothing like this, and they moved forward. They took the device to the Apple store on West 14th Street to get an official verdict — yes, a manager said, it’s a fake — and acquired a search warrant for the West 28th Street store where the police said the phone came from.
Officers raided the store on Feb. 9 and found what the police described as among the larger inventories of fake Apple electronics for sale on the East Coast. They said there were 436 iPhones, 21 iPads, 128 iPods — all fake. An official from Apple showed up to verify as much.
“If you walked in and said, ‘I want a 32-gigabyte white iPhone,’ they had it,” Sergeant O’Connell said. “The iPad was the size of a Kindle screen.”
Some devices turned on, while others appeared to need to be plugged in first. The police said they also found $2,400 in cash, a bunch of security cameras and two people working, Cindy Liu, 25, and Mo Ling, 36, who were arrested.
There were also 3,697 knockoff versions of the popular Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. They sounded terrible. “It’s like buying ‘Sergeant Pepper’ and discovering it was covered by your neighbors next door,” said Luke Wood, president of Beats.
Counterfeiting seems to be on the rise, with thousands of fake iPhones found in seizures in California in 2010 and 2011, said Leander Kahney, editor and publisher of CultofMac.com, a technology news site devoted to Apple. Last summer, a South Carolina woman believed she was buying a new iPad sealed in a FedEx envelope, only to get home and find that it was made of wood. In 2009, an electronic store owner’s video of his examination of a fake iPhone became a cult hit. Most knockoffs are sold over the Internet, with stores like the one in New York far rarer.
Bernie Minoso, a manager at the store Tekserve, worked at Apple’s Fifth Avenue store for more than five years, and had to face many unhappy owners — up to five a day — right after a new product was released. Their new devices would not communicate with the iTunes store.
“We started seeing this nearly perfect iPod with a different operating system inside,” Mr. Minoso said. “We said, ‘We cannot service this.’ ” But he said he had not seen a fake in years and marveled at the size of the seizure just five blocks from his store.
The fakes are believed to come from China. Some are made of real Apple parts stolen from company factories there, but most are wholly produced with separate materials. “It has to be a clean environment” to make the fakes really work, Mr. Minoso said. “If I were doing it, it would be a dust-free shop.”
Some of the fakes have their fans. “There are some really sophisticated ones coming out of China that some people actually prefer,” Mr. Kahney said. “It has a replaceable battery, so you can swap the battery out, which you can’t do on the iPhone.”
The New York police said their investigation into the little store was continuing.