"One of the seals on the box was obviously pulled off and, when I saw what was inside it, my heart just dropped," he said. "I thought I was buying an iPhone 14 Pro. I had bought it during the Black Friday sales week and this one was a couple hundred dollars off the normal price, and I bought it for $1,597. That discount was the only reason I had decided to buy through Amazon rather than going to an in-person store I trust."
The teen added that he'd made sure to check he was buying it directly from Amazon and not a third party. "Obviously, I thought I could trust Amazon," he said. "But clearly not, based on what I received."
Instead of a new iPhone inside the box, there was a bunch of mini iron weights.
"They'd been carefully placed and glued inside the box," the disgruntled customer said. "I later connected [that they] would have been used to replicate the weight of the iPhone to make it seem like the phone was always in there during shipping and distribution, I'd assume."
Hunt for answers
The teen, who's studying a bachelor of science at Melbourne Uni, contacted Amazon's customer service line straight away and explained what had happened.
"I was transferred multiple times to different people and it took about two hours to determine what the next steps were," he said. "Amazon failed to provide me with any reassurance as to what was going to happen, no indication as to what their 'investigation' involved. I was even expected to be the one to call them to ask for an update.
"I had just spent $1,600 and was basically told I had to wait upwards of five days before I could contact them again."
After waiting five days, he phoned Amazon again only to be told, "They were unable to provide a refund or replacement because the delivery was correct and the apparent 'weight' of the product was correct".
But he continued to push the issue and, after being advised by Amazon to report the matter to police, he filled out a statutory declaration with officers and finally got his refund.
Warning to fellow shoppers
While the teen can't tell if he was scammed by the original supplier or had been the victim of grubby fingers along the distribution chain, he's now urging other shoppers to be exceptionally careful.
"It genuinely made me so upset, not just with Amazon, but with the fact that there were people in the world that would do this sort of thing," he said, before explaining he was sharing the incident on social media to spread awareness about retail scams.
"I want people to be safe when shopping so they don’t have to experience the horror of what I went through," he said.
Amazon addresses iPhone scam
Speaking to Yahoo Finance, a spokesperson for Amazon said the company was looking into the incident.
"Amazon works hard to provide customers with a great experience and it's our commitment to go above and beyond to make things right for customers," the spokesperson said. "We regret that this has not been the experience for this customer and are currently investigating this issue."
Scammers are more active now than ever, according to Professor Roberta Crouch from the College of Business, Government and Law at Flinders University, who says they specifically target countries that celebrate the gift-giving holidays.
While Crouch hadn't heard of Amazon customers falling victim to scams before, she conceded it wouldn't be easy for the company to keep track of items sold on the platform.
"It would be very difficult for them to police everybody all the time," she told Yahoo Finance. "Amazon, you need to remember, is really just a conduit for on-sellers, so it's very difficult for them to verify the bona fides of everybody who stocks with them because literally millions of retailers stock with them, globally."
Advice for Aussie shoppers
Crouch said, where possible, it was best to buy directly through retailers.
"If you want an iPhone, go to the Apple store," she advised, adding that if something online looked like it was too good to be true, it probably was.
"You need to be careful of super deals, especially for big global brands that are rarely, if ever, discounting. Apple would be one of those," she explained. "And the more money you spend, the more careful you should be, and the more wary you should be of something that looks like it's the deal of the century because it probably isn't."