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Thousands of Iranians fall victim to cut-price Apple iPhone scam

Thousands of Iranians fall victim to cut-price Apple iPhone scam

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A multi-million-dollar fraud involving heavily discounted Apple iPhones has left thousands of people in Iran out of pocket, and revealed the lengths that its consumers will go to get their hands on the prized mobile device.

Kourosh Company, based in Tehran, was for months offering half-price deals on iPhones that sell for the equivalent of about $700, arguing that it saved money securing them by eliminating costly middlemen.

The company, run by entrepreneur Amir Hossein Sharifian, used high-profile endorsements to drive sales, with Iranian sports figures and other celebrities using their star power to lure in thousands of victims, many of them young people who dreamt of owning the latest Apple gadget.

But after would-be buyers had parted with their money and waited the required 45 days for delivery, the iPhones never arrived. It dawned on them eventually that they had been scammed.

Domestic media has reported that the phone fraud could have netted the equivalent of about $35mn, but no official figure has been given.

As the scale of the phone con became clearer and angry customers began to picket Tehran police headquarters demanding action against Kourosh, it emerged that the owner Sharifian had left Iran several months ago.

Iranian police now say they have located the 27-year-old, without revealing where, but that he would be extradited through Interpol. Sharifian could not be reached for comment, but said in a YouTube channel phone interview this month that he owed his clients only about $2.7mn.

Apple iPhones can be purchased at stores across Iran, although they have to be brought into the country individually or in batches because the California technology giant does not do business there in compliance with US sanctions.

The equivalent of about $1bn worth of iPhones have been imported into Iran over the past 10 months, the Tasnim news agency reported, mostly from elsewhere in the Middle East and Asia. 

The devices are coveted by many in Iran despite the high price that consumers with deteriorating purchasing power must pay for technology.

“It’s cool and classy. My friends cut down on their expenses to save up for an iPhone,” said Farzad, a 28-year-old property agent. “Still getting an Apple ID or downloading apps and games is a huge hassle, and costly too.”

Apple restricts services in Iran, but tech-savvy users have found innovative ways to sidestep the restrictions, from using a foreign address to secure an Apple ID to buying gift cards to purchase apps and games.

Tehran last year introduced a ban on the import of the newest generation of iPhone, making them ever more prized.

Analysts cite various explanations, from the new models’ capability to connect directly to Starlink satellites to the squeeze on foreign currency reserves already strained by the sanctions. Others link it to the decades-old US-Iran feud and the push by some in the regime to prohibit any luxury American-developed merchandise.

The celebrities who endorsed Kourosh have faced severe public criticism and calls for them to be held accountable. They include national football team goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand and taxi driver turned celebrity Sadegh “the hornblower”, who shot to fame in December with his viral dance moves at a local fish market.

The Kourosh scam is the latest in a series of corruption and fraud cases that have angered Iranians grappling with daily financial and social stresses. Another recent example was a $3bn embezzlement case involving a tea import company.

Farhikhtegan, a newspaper close to the regime’s hardliners, said there had been as many as 32 big scams in Iran in recent years that defrauded tens of thousands of victims.

Many blame the iPhone con on a lack of governmental oversight, and asked how a company founded three years ago was able to obtain the required permits and run advertisements for its fraudulent merchandise. Kourosh also obtained an electronic trust certificate for its online sales.

“The main culprits are governments that open the way for corruption with their wrong decision-making,” said Jalal Rashidi Kouchi, an independent lawmaker. “The [Kourosh] case is tiny compared with the huge corruption that lies behind the ban on the import of iPhones.”

Farzad, the property agent, added: “I keep wondering how all this went on for months under the very nose of all relevant organisations. And I keep thinking: why can’t Iranians simply make purchases at a local Apple store like the rest of the world?”

The article was first published here

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