I have been shopping around for a used ThinkPad after killing my last one in a spectacular display of negligence. I have always been a careful consumer when it comes to buying high end electronics, but my recent work in China has opened my eyes to the massive scale of counterfeiting operations that go on there. When you are buying used high-end electronics like a ThinkPad, you want to make sure that you are dealing with a legitimate source. Finding legitimate sources are easy when shopping for new or refurbished equipment (go straight to Lenovo or one of their authorized partners/retailers). Now when you are talking to someone on eBay, or some guy from Craigslist in your local QuickieMart parking lot (you don’t actually tell them where you live I hope!) it is a little harder to ascertain if they just came back from China with a suitcase full of counterfeit products to sell.
I have compared several legitimate Samsung S3 phones and ThinkPad computes side-by side with counterfeits, and you can not tell a difference looking at them. The difference in price though, 800RMB (~$120USD) for the S3 and about 2000RMB (~$320USD) for the a perfect knockoff X201 ThinkPad. People who bought the fake phones had them last for most a month or two before they died, and side-by-side their performance was nowhere near the real things (I have no experience with the Lenovo computes, but expect the same would be true).
When I am shopping for a used ThinkPad, there are several key things that you want to check:
-Is it a legitimate ThinkPad product?
-Is it really equipped as they are advertising?
-Is it stolen?
You can check all of this with two pieces of information, the “Machine Type” and serial number. The first two are easy. Go to the Lenovo website and go to the support section. The first item can be checked by going to the warranty section of support and clicking on Check Warranty Status link. Enter the Machine Type and Serial number. You can find out when the computer was purchased, if it has warranty remaining, any extra warranty services that were purchased with it, etc. To check if it is really equipped as they are claiming, go to the Guides and Manuals area of the support section. Enter the full machine type then look for the see product detail tab. This will tell you how that machine was configured when ordered from Lenovo. Someone may have added memory or changed hard drives, but not much else is user serviceable on the computers. Be sure to confirm any differences carefully.
Checking if the machine is stolen can be a little bit trickier. I have called Lenovo tech support with S/N’s before and sometimes they claim they can not check if they have been reported stolen, and sometimes they say they will look for me. I also call my local police and have them run the number through their stolen property database. My local police have been good about doing it over the phone, but I have been in other cities where they want to send an officer out to “inspect” the S/N before running it (and probably nab the person if its stolen). That can make it a little harder to setup a meet with the seller, not to mention intimidating, but I think if they show up knowing a cop is going to come check the S/N it’s probably legitimate.
I have had some people be shy about providing the S/N’s before, and most of the time those people were sketchy when I met them in person. As a personal rule, I now demand that they provide details I can use to look into the legitimacy of a deal before I meet. I am sure I lose out on some legitimate deals, but it has kept me out of trouble so far.