Don’t get burnt buying fake Apple products

Originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald

In demand Apple products such as Beats headphones and iOS accessories like chargers and cables are ripe targets for counterfeiting. The high prices of these genuine products lead to some too good to be true deals on sites like Gumtree and eBay. Luckily, there are some easy to spot signs that will determine if the deal is legit or a dud.

Let’s take Beats headphones as our first example. A quick search on eBay for the popular urbeats earphones brings up sellers offering them for a meagre $47.50. Apple sells these for $129.95 at their stores and Harvey Norman stocks them for $98, so a 50-60% discount is amazing! Of course, if you didn’t tell from just the price alone, there are other indicators you may have a fake.

A common theme in the listing’s description states that the urbeats are “Refurbished, 85%-95%” – this means absolutely nothing. 85% to 95% of what is refurbished? Apple don’t sell refurbished Beats headphones. These are fakes.

Another clear sign is that the seller states that the headphones don’t come in any packaging. Or no carry case. If there’s no packaging and the included carry case isn’t included, chances are it’s counterfeit. Apple doesn’t provide any stock to resellers without packaging of some sort and certainly wouldn’t sell the headphones without a carry case.

Even price alone isn’t a reliable indicator. There’s headphones for sale at $69, still way below retail price – but a dead giveaway are the photos. The original headphones have a metallic, shiny finish. The headphones in the picture are dull and look like plastic.

Apple accessories are some of the most counterfeited products around. When Apple asks for over $100 for a laptop charger, $29 for an iPad USB charger or $45 for a 2m Lightning to USB cable, it’s no wonder fakes are rife in marketplaces around Australia.

Apple’s USB and laptop chargers are the most notorious for counterfeiting. There’s so many on eBay that look indistinguishable from the original item, it’s very difficult to tell if it’s a fake besides noticing the price. Apple doesn’t give any discounts on their accessories, so if it’s significantly less than what Apple is charging for it, that’s a red flag.

There are other, subtle markers in ads that can give away a product is fake. If the ad is gracious enough to display photos of the charger’s bottom, you can tell that the certification markings are a bit off from the original item. Another item to note is the lack of plastic around the top of the prongs.

Counterfeit chargers are often not certified for safe use in Australia (e.g: a Regulatory Compliance Mark) and if they do have such a mark on it, there’s no promise the manufacturer didn’t just slap that logo on without getting it tested.

Lightning cables are even more difficult to tell if they’re fake or not. Some of the fakes look identical to the real thing and the only way you find out they’re fake is when you go to plug it in to your iOS device one day and it stops working because Apple issued an update that blocks that particular type of counterfeit cable.

All Lightning cables have a security chip inside that’s used by Apple to thwart counterfeiters. Sometimes the counterfeiters manage to copy the chip and the cable works, but then Apple release an update to iOS and the cable can suddenly stop working.

An easy thing to spot is the size of the Lightning plug. If it’s significantly larger than the original Apple one, it’s likely a fake. Price is the easiest sign of a fake though – if someone is offering you three Lightning cables for less than what Apple charges for one, they’re fakes and probably won’t work properly.

That’s not to say there aren’t legitimate non-Apple made cables out there. Apple does have a proper “Made for iOS” program where companies can licence the real security chips and place them in their products to ensure it works properly. The fact the manufacturer has to pay Apple for those chips means the price of the cable is going to be closer to what Apple charge for one.

Of course, retailers lie about their Made for iOS certification too, just like their regulatory compliance marking, so it’s still difficult to judge. Brands like Belkin and Griffin are more likely to be legitimate than a no-name brand or one trying to pass off as a genuine Apple product. The only sure-fire way to ensure your cable is legit is to buy it from a large store that offers returns, so if the cable does play up, you can return it easily.