What are fake phones?

Why shouldn’t I buy a fake phone when it is much cheaper than a real one?

What questions can I ask a salesperson if I’m unsure a phone is genuine?

I need a new battery and charger. Do I have to buy a branded one or can I buy generic?

I was fooled into buying a counterfeit phone. What should I do?

Is my personal information safe on a fake phone?

The mobile phone industry is massive. Who cares if people copy their products?

What can I do to help?

For a list of sources for more information, see here.

 

What are fake phones?

Counterfeit, fake, knock-off, imitation, copycat, phoney and replica are all terms used to describe phones not produced by genuine mobile phone handset manufacturers.

Most fake phones are counterfeit copies of genuine handsets, which steal design and trademarks to deceive consumers. Other fakes do not infringe copyright but appear to be legitimate competition to genuine models. But all fake phones are produced without government approval, testing or certification and are sold illegally on the world’s black market.

With counterfeiters imitating all facets of a phone's appearance, including labelling, design and packaging, it can be difficult to detect whether a phone is fake or genuine. Often it is the sub-standard components, low quality manufacturing and poor performance that impact on consumers after they have already purchased a fake.

However, there are a few key criteria that you can use to make sure you purchase a genuine product.

Why shouldn’t I buy a fake phone when it is much cheaper than a real one?

The saying ‘you get what you pay for’ is certainly true when it comes to fake phones, batteries and chargers.

Genuine mobile phones undergo a series of tests for quality, durability and safety before reaching the market. They are also certified to meet national and international standards for exposure to radio frequency emissions. Manufacturers can guarantee their products quality and safety and offer a warranty on the workmanship of their products.

In contrast, fake phones are not tested for their quality or safety and counterfeiters don’t offer a warranty when their products malfunction. Counterfeit phones are often falsely advertised as genuine but run on inferior operating systems, lack basic functions and perform poorly.

So although fake phones can appear as a cheap alternative to genuine phones, the short-term saving can quickly dissolve when the product turns out to be poor quality or faulty and you can’t make a warranty claim.

For more information, see here.

What questions can I ask a salesperson if I’m unsure a phone is genuine?

When possible it is always preferable to buy a phone through a registered retailer or reseller who can vouch for a phone's authenticity. You should only buy a phone made by a trusted, registered manufacturer.

Yet with the popularity of internet shopping and auction websites this may not be an option.

If you are unsure if a salesperson is selling genuine phones then there are some simple things you can ask them to help verify your concerns:

  1. Every genuine mobile phone has a serial number to register it to a carrier network called an International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number. The IMEI number can be used to verify the legitimacy of a phone. Often counterfeit models won’t have an IMEI number or use a fake one. If you are viewing the phone in person then you can find the IMEI number on the product packaging, under the phone's battery or by pressing *#06# on the phone. If you are not viewing the phone in person then you should ask the retailer for the phone's IMEI number. To check the legitimacy of a phone's IMEI number and any information regarding country of production, manufacturer and model type, you can use this tool.

  2. It is important to do a little research before buying a new phone. Counterfeit phones can have differing features to genuine models. Check the model number and technical specifications of the genuine phone you wish to buy and ensure they match what is being offered.

  3. Ask if the phone comes with a warranty and about the return policy. All genuine mobile phone manufacturers offer some kind of warranty. Black market phones rarely come with a warranty or offer servicing of damaged products.

  4. If there is a significant price difference between the recommended retail price and the price of the phone being offered, then ask for a reason.

For more information, see the Spot a fake checklist.

I need a new battery and charger. Do I have to buy a branded one or can I buy generic?

There are many uncertified mobile phone accessories on the market today including mobile phone batteries and chargers. These accessories can be produced to appear legitimate or as an alternative to genuine products. To spot fake batteries and chargers see here.

Uncertified batteries and chargers are often supplied with black market phones but are also offered as an after-market product, found on auction websites or in unregistered stores often at a significantly lower price than genuine products.

The most common type of battery found in today’s mobile phones are Lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries, chosen for their large energy capacity and small size. However, Li-Ion batteries are more sensitive to physical stress than other types of batteries and as such require stringent safety testing.

All mobile phone batteries and chargers must undergo the same stringent testing to ensure they meet all levels of safety. Genuine mobile phone batteries are tested under intense conditions to ensure they can handle varying conditions of use. Counterfeit and substandard mobile phones, batteries and chargers are not subject to such comprehensive testing and therefore the safety of fake phones cannot be verified.

There have been many media reports around the world of incidents where mobile phone batteries have exploded and injured people. Counterfeit and some third party manufactured batteries do not meet all of the safety requirements that prevent these incidents, for example, by not including a safety circuit which regulates voltage, current and heat within the battery, and without this the battery can short circuit, heat up dramatically and in the worst case, explode.

For more information, see here.

I was fooled into buying a counterfeit phone. What should I do?

Counterfeit phones are produced to deceive consumers into thinking they are genuine.

If you have purchased a fake phone by mistake then you should attempt to return it from where you bought it for a full refund. Then you should report the counterfeit sale to the police, the genuine brand owner and any relevant authorities as soon as possible.

If you have bought the product online then you should attempt to contact the seller to arrange a refund and then report the counterfeit sale.

For more information on contacting the genuine brand manufacturer and relevant authorities to report fake phone sales, see here.

Otherwise, more information is available here.

Is my personal information safe on a fake phone?

Mobile phones are becoming increasingly sophisticated and can handle a multitude of tasks. Modern smartphones can hold a large amount of your personal information, especially with the variety of applications now available.

Counterfeit phones run on inferior operating systems leaving users vulnerable. There have been reports of fraudulent applications which, when downloaded, collect and send your sensitive and personal data to criminal gangs [Source: Security News Daily]. There have also been reports of fake phones loaded with hidden software to steal information, and make unwanted international calls resulting in large phone bills [Source: Shanghai Daily].

Considering many people now use their phones to make purchases or do their banking, having your information accessed by hackers could be costly.

For more information, see here.

The mobile phone industry is massive. Who cares if people copy their products?

Black market phones cost the mobile phone industry billions of dollars every year in lost sales, warranty claims, network disruption and copyright infringement. The illegal manufacture and sale of counterfeit and sub-standard phones damages brand reputation and affects the profitability of legitimate handset manufacturers and retailers on all levels.

According to some industry reports counterfeit black market phones made up around 10 per cent of worldwide sales in 2010 [Reference: Gartner February, 2011, Carolina Milanesi]. Others believe one in five mobile phones sold in the world are illegal or unlicensed copies [Reference: Reuters].

Counterfeit phones also have a negative impact on the people who buy them. Fake phones, batteries and chargers are often purchased by consumers who have been fooled into thinking they are genuine, or are unaware of the cheap substandard components used to make them and the potential risk they pose to human health and the environment.

The substandard components used to manufacture fake phones and accessories are untested, uncertified and can be a safety hazard for users. Fake phones are also made with cheap, low quality parts, run on inferior operating systems and don’t come with a manufacturer’s warranty.  This leaves their users with poorly functioning low quality phones that often malfunction or stop working.

However, counterfeiters aren’t concerned with the poor customer satisfaction issues which surround their products and sadly it is most often the people who can least afford it, who are ripped off by counterfeiters.

For more information, see here.

What can I do to help?

Reading this is a great start. By understanding how to ‘spot a fake phone’ and ensuring your next purchase is from a genuine manufacturer, you are helping in the global fight against counterfeiting.

You should also tell your friends and family about this website, to make sure they don’t get caught out by fake products.

To spread the word by social media follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

For a list of sources for more information, see here.

World Intellectual Property Organization [www.wipo.int]
World Customs Organization [www.wcoipr.org]
European Commission [www.europa.eu.int]
World Trade Organization [www.wto.org]
The International Chamber of Commerce [www.icc-ccs.org]
International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition [http://www.iacc.org/]
Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy [http://www.iccwbo.org/bascap/id1127/index.html]