If you're reading this, you too probably want to get your impossible-to-unlock iPhone carrier-unlocked. You did some googling and found officialiphoneunlock.co.uk (also doing business as iphoneimei.net). You read a lot of positive reviews. You saw their Facebook page with a flood of comments from satisfied customers. Their site looks comparatively legitimate because they have an address and phone number published. Maybe you're planning on placing an order with them.
Don't. It's a scam. Allow me to share my story.
My iPhone 4S was with Japanese carrier Softbank. Japanese carriers (esp. Softbank) are infamous for never unlocking phones--esp. the iPhone. Officialiphoneunlock.co.uk said they could do it. It was expensive, but I reckoned worth it considering the money I could save. I placed my order around the end of October 2012.
They told me to be patient. I was. I waited and waited and waited. My order status showed "submitted to unlock server." I got hopeful. But nothing happened. No reply. No unlock. Nothing.
My patience began wearing thin around January 2013, almost 3 months after placing the order. I contacted them through their support page. It took several requests each time to get a reply. I even called them. Each time the response was similar:
* "Please wait."
* "We haven't heard back from that carrier yet."
* "There was a delay with this carrier. The orders will start going through in 7 business days."
Here's the actual support thread. My requests are in black, while theirs are in blue.
Mon Jan 28 2013 05:58 am
My order has said "submitted to server" for over 6 weeks now. Please advise.
Wed Feb 20 2013 06:57 am
Please respond to my request.
Wed Feb 20 2013 08:48 am
We are just waiting for an update back from the supplier , when we do get this your order status page will be updated and you will be emailed,thank you for your patience
Mon Feb 25 2013 01:43 pm
I placed my order over 4 months ago. I think it's time you issued a refund.
Wed Feb 27 2013 02:07 am
Please respond to my request.
Thu Feb 28 2013 12:35 am
If you don't issue a refund immediately, I will take legal action. http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/report-a-fraud-including-online-crime-questions
Thu Mar 07 2013 12:22 am
Please respond to my request.
Thu Mar 07 2013 09:05 am
We have no new update for that network as yet , when we do the order status page will display it , thank you for your patience
Wed Mar 13 2013 11:33 am
I placed my order almost 5 months ago. Please provide an update.
Wed Mar 13 2013 11:43 am
If we do not get the unlock confirm for your IMEI/ESN in the next 7 working days we shall get a refund issued for you
At this point I was pretty sure that this was a scam. I did more Internet research and found similar reports of fraud and nightmarish experiences with this company:
How I Fought Back
Like most problems I thought this one warranted a multifaceted approach. I attacked this from several angles.
Call the Credit Card Company
I called my credit card company and told them what happened. It was a straightforward story that they likely hear time and time again, so they calmly asked me to send them the invoice emails, support threads, etc. They initiated a claim. I was worried about how much time had passed since placing the order, but the fact they opened a claim gave me hope.
Submit a Report to Action Fraud
I reported these criminals using a website setup by the UK police: http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/report-a-fraud-including-online-crime-questions. Unfortunately, I'm not even sure they're really located in the UK. The information on their site could all be fake. Their site's IP addresses resolve to Costa Rica and Switzerland--behind "Cloudflare," an infamous free CDN service popular among scammers due to the no-questions-asked anonymity provided. The guy on the phone had a British accent, but that doesn't prove anything. Perhaps he's on the moon counting his scammed money, dreaming of the day he can afford a London flat.
Assuming they are UK-based, you can find their current company information using UK's Company House website: http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk This may assist in filing a report with Action Fraud.
Initially this was the company info:
IPHONE ACCESSORIES AND REPAIR LTD
Company No. 07838094
Then I found this one. Is it the same?
145-157 ST JOHN STREET
Company No. 08487536
Perhaps this outfit ditched their old company name and registered a new one--likely because the old one was getting quite a number of fraud complaints. Therefore, I suggest searching Companies House to see if they've jumped ship again. It's no mystery why they no longer disclose their company info on their website.
Despite the effort, I considered it time well spent to submit a report to Action Fraud. I'm not expecting much, but I hope they can do something if enough victims unite and submit reports. So I encourage you to do so if you too are a victim.
Submit a Report to Citizens Advice / Trading Standards
This is the UK equivalent to the Better Business Bureau. I used their site to submit an enquiry, and they contacted me directly through email. However, they said they could not do much since I'm located in Japan. They did say they would report the company's activities to Trading Standards. I figured that was better than nothing. Again, I think it's one of those things worth doing because it will get noticed if enough victims speak up. Here's the link: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer/get-more-help/report-to-trading-standards/
I'm writing this article so that other potential victims can be spared. I encourage others to do the same. Harvest the infinite power of the Internet to blog, post, podcast, tweet, facebook, youtube, etc. about these criminals.
Mid-March, 2013 I received an email from officialiphoneunlock.co.uk stating that my credit card company had initiated a charge-back. They threatened to blacklist my iPhone and report me to the authorities if I did not call-off the charge-back.
Here's the actual email text:
We have been informed by our payment processor that a chargeback has been initiated by yourself against the unlock for IMEI:
In accordance with our terms and conditions (see below), proceedings will be initiated in 48 hours for the blacklisting of this IMEI from working on ANY network worldwide, INCLUDING the original network it was locked to. Please note that this is PERMANENT - once an IMEI is blacklisted, there is no possibility of removing this entry. You were warned at the time of purchase of the consequences of filing a chargeback and de-frauding our company.
In addition, if you are based in the UK, we will be filing a Money Claim Online for the cost of the service itself, plus GBP25.00 court fee, GBP25.00 chargeback fee, and £50 administration costs.
If, however, this was a mistake on your part, then you can halt this process is by replying to this email where we will collect payment for the unlock via bank transfer or credit/debit card and immediately halt the blacklisting/small claims process.
The Official iPhone Unlocking Team
iPhone Accessories and Repairs Ltd, a company registered in England and Wales no. 7838094
0121 510 2140
13.1 We will not tolerate any attempts to obtain our services by fraudulent means. We report all such attempts to defraud our company to the relevant credit reference agencies and authorities.
13.2 To combat fraud, we are obliged to log the IP addresses of customer computers at each and every stage of the buying and delivery process.
13.5 In case of any chargeback, the associated IMEI will be blacklisted in the iTunes database, preventing it from working on all networks worldwide. This is PERMANENT.
Then my order status showed this:
THIS ORDER IS FRAUDULENT.
The IMEI will not be sent for unlocking. Your IP has been logged and passed to the card authorities, the IMEI has also been blacklisted within the Apple iTunes database from working on ANY network worldwide.
The cardholder will be refunded in full.
DO NOT PURCHASE FROM OUR WEBSITE WITH STOLEN CARDS IN FUTURE.
14 Mar 2013 13:23:18 - IMEI submitted to unlock server
Approximate Timeframe: 5-10 days - please remember, that when considering timeframes, unlocks aren't processed at weekends.
If the timeframe has been exceeded, it will either be that your handset is barred (lost or stolen) and hence requires a slower method, or one of the reasons below:
Unlocks were offline for 1 month due to the Chinese New Year. Unlocks will start coming through from this Friday on a limited number per day, please be patient.
This made me laugh and served only to 100% confirm my suspicions that this "company" (if you could call it that) is indeed fraudulent:
* This wasn't a business transaction. Threatening people for financial gain is extortion. Isn't that a crime? This is a criminal operation, plain and simple.
* Their site says that they aren't responsible for delays. They'll take your money, but they aren't responsible for delivering the service. That alone should be a red flag.
* The delay is due to Chinese New Year? Really?? Here in Japan we don't celebrate Chinese New Year, you dummies. If you're going to lie, then at least get it right.
* If they couldn't get my phone unlocked in 5 months, how could they get it blacklisted in 2 days? This is yet another lie, so now they're not just thieves, but liars too. Much worse.
My Softbank iPhone is just fine, and my money is back. My phone is still carrier-locked of course, but I learned a valuable lesson.
There's just too much fraud wrapped around carrier-unlocked iPhones. The best way to get a legitimately factory unlocked iPhone is from the Apple Store or by directly asking your carrier to unlock it. If your carrier won't do it, then chances are that anyone else claiming they can do the impossible is a thief.
Perseverance is king, so I haven't yet given up on my dream of owning an unlocked iPhone. Stay tuned for the exciting continuation of this intriguing adventure!
I posted some follow-ups to this article:
Scam Alert - officialiphoneunlock.co.uk - Part 2
How to Spot an iPhone Unlock Scam
Be careful because iPhone unlocking scams are everywhere on the web. Generally speaking, it's a scam if the unlocker claims to unlock phones from providers that never unlock (Softbank, Au, Docomo, etc.) and/or they offer iCloud activation lock bypass/removal service.
Here are some sites that have also been reported as scams: