Bamboozled: Fake iPad triggers real problem

BB brandingJamie Frick knew what she wanted for the holidays.

When her husband received two Walmart gift cards from his boss, he gave them to Frick. She took them to the Cedar Knolls Walmart on Jan. 6.

At 11:04 a.m., according to the receipt, Frick bought an iPad 3 for $499 plus tax, and the cost was covered by the gift cards.

Frick, 33, of Randolph, said she spent the day with her two kids, ages 5 and 3, at her parents’ house, so she didn’t get to open the iPad box until about 8:30 that night.

“When I got home and opened the box, I thought it was a real iPad,” she said. “I took out the charger and then tried to plug it in the iPad, and that is when I started to notice everything.”

Frick said the port on the iPad was the size of the port on the older versions of the iPad, but the cord that came in the box was the newer iPad 3 charger.

“When I was trying to figure out the problem, I realized there were no electronics in the port to charge it,” she said. “The idiot that I am, I even tried to charge the stupid thing for two hours.”

When nothing happened, she noticed other discrepancies: the buttons didn’t really work, the screen looked slightly scratched and the Apple icon on the back of the iPad was not engraved, but “plastic-y.” She continued her examination and noticed the serial number on the iPad was different from the one on the box. And, she had purchased a 16-gigabyte machine, but the one in her hands said it had 64-gigabytes.

11413“To be honest, I didn’t know what to think — realizing only that something was very wrong with it,” she said.

Frick said she called the store immediately and spoke to an assistant manager. She didn’t write down the manager’s name, but said the manager told her to bring it back in the morning with all the packaging.

Diving into her garbage can, Frick recovered the shrink wrap and put it with the rest of the packaging.

The next day, Frick said, she returned to the store at about 1 p.m. and went to the electronics department, where three clerks and Frick compared the iPad to a real one in the store. A clerk called an assistant manager.

“She — along with three other employees — looked at the product and everyone was shocked and surprised by what I showed them,” Frick said.

The assistant manager originally offered to give Frick her gift cards back because there were no other iPad 3s in stock or at other local stores.

Frick said she asked if she could have cash back instead so she could buy the iPad elsewhere, and the assistant manager said she had to talk to the head manager.

The assistant manager returned, Frick said, and reported that the manager wanted to review the surveillance tapes at the time of the purchase.

While Frick waited, she said, she checked and saw the item was available online, so she thought perhaps she could order it and Walmart would waive the shipping fee.

About an hour later, Frick said, the manager came out to say that there was nothing the store could do to help her.

“I then got very upset, and asked why, and he said that based on the surveillance tapes, they saw me purchase an iPad, but the iPad I purchased was different in the video,” Frick said. “When I explained that the shrink wrap was different but not obviously different, he said, again, without apology, ‘There is nothing to do for you here,’ and then walked away.”

The assistant manager was still standing there, Frick said, and she gave Frick the 800 number to try for more assistance.

Back at home, Frick called the 800 number, and the customer service rep told her a regional manager would be calling her by the end of the week.

On Jan. 8, Frick filed a claim in small claims court.

The regional manager didn’t call, Frick said, but a different manager from the store called that same day.

“When I told her the story and how far I have decided to take this — I have since filed a consumer fraud claim in small claims court, and filed a police report of civil dispute and theft — she apologized that this happened but didn’t offer anything else,” Frick said.

Next, Frick contacted Bamboozled.

‘Things have changed’

We reached out to Walmart’s corporate offices to see if something could be done.

The rep we talked to said they’d investigate immediately, and we shared the serial numbers so the company could track the history of the product.

In hours, Frick said, she received another call.

“The store just called me saying ‘things have changed’ and they want to give me my money back,” she said, but because it was late in the day and the manager was heading home soon, the store would have to take care of it the following day. “I do want my money back.”

Frick noted she since paid $48 in court fees because the company initially refused the refund, and she was angry.

“What they did by accusing me of a crime is unconscionable,” she said, of when the manager said the iPad in the videotape wasn’t the same as the one she brought back to the store. “Honestly, I am really feeling very ‘too little, too late.’”

Walmart told Bamboozled it understood Frick was not the culprit, and that while it hasn’t seen many fake items, it has seen “repackaging schemes” where an actual iPad was not inside the box.

“This is an unfortunate situation involving someone fraudulently returning a product that appeared to be brand new in a sealed box resulting in the product being returned to our sales floor,“ said spokeswoman Dianna Gee. ”We truly regret that an innocent customer had to be on the receiving end of this.“

Gee said Walmart never wants customers to have a bad experience and it wants to focus on doing what is right for the customer. As such, the store manager reached out to Frick to offer her a full refund and an apology for the mix-up.

“We are aware of similar scam involving repackaged iPads which has hit several of our stores as well as other retailers,’ Gee said. “As in most cases, the scam involves someone purchasing an iPad, removing the contents and resealing it in a manner that clearly resembles factory packaging. Because the product appeared to be factory sealed, the item was returned to store inventory.”

In light of this, Gee said, Walmart is taking a closer look at how it processes iPad returns in the future.

So on Friday, Frick returned to Walmart.

“[The manager] gave me a full cash refund and a $50 Walmart gift card for my `inconvenience,’” she said. “I will still write a letter to Walmart about my experience, but I think in the end, I can now just go directly to an Apple store to get my iPad.”

Separately, Walmart told Bamboozled it will reimburse Frick’s court filing fees.

Thanks to Walmart for making things right for this customer.

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