Buyer Beware: Phony Apple AirPods Abound

I saw a curious post on Facebook Marketplace with the heading: “*FAKE* Airpods Pro – $50.” The listing read: “I got scammed with FAKE airpods, so I want to get rid of them. They were used for all of a few minutes. I have all packaging. The only thing that doesn’t work are the Active Noise Cancellation/Siri/Transperency [sic]. Find My, the animations, everything else looks identical. I’m annoyed, so I want to get rid of them.”

Hmmm… My first thought was why would anyone want to buy a set of fake Apple earbuds? The problem of counterfeit electronics gear is not a subject I usually think much about but it became top of mind last week when I learned about a company working with authorities to shut down a counterfeit speaker operation in China.

So I messaged the seller, Haim Cohen, to learn more. I identified myself and said I was considering a post on the topic. I asked three questions: 1. Where did you buy the AirPods Pro and at what price? 2. How do you know they are counterfeit (and not just defective)? 3. Do you know anyone else who was scammed as you were? He was kind enough to respond in detail, writing:

I lost one airpod, and a replacement from Apple was $95. I went to Facebook marketplace to see new, sealed airpods pro (gen 1) were $110-$120. Found a person who was only selling one that was local for pickup. Asked why he was selling, and got a response, “I got an extra one for Christmas, and wanted the money.”

I knew there were fakes, but I didn’t realize how incredibly well done they are.

They were sealed well, with a pull tab. The pull tab ripped off without taking the cellophane off (apparently that is a fake sign).

I ran the serial number. It checked out. Each AirPod and the case had a “correct serial number.” The strange part was that Apple said there was no warranty left. Turns out that was another sign of being fake. I checked online, and all the numbers checked out, and forums corroborated it.

The animations [on my iPhone] worked perfectly. When I flipped the lid, it did all the correct animations. You can see the airpods in “Find my.”

The firmware version was old, but I figured this probably sat for a while. The lack of warranty, also signaled that they were probably over a year old. Add to the fact that the Gen 1s are not being sold anymore, I figured Apple just nulled all the older warranties.

I then checked the ANC [active noise cancellation], and I swear it worked. However, the next day, I tried it again in a louder environment, and found it didn’t work. That was the sign. The push to toggle between modes did not work [but the earbuds] passed the good seal test.

I also found out the USB-C cable did not have a white border inside.

Apparently, all AirPods not [purchased] through Apple…are presumed to be fake. My friend found Mercari listings that are also fake. After this ordeal, I don’t know if I would trust even Amazon (sold and shipped from Amazon) with this.

I absolutely had no idea how prevalent this was.

Counterfeit merchandise is, of course, a longstanding problem of great magnitude. Knockoffs in a multitude of product categories have been coming out of China for years. It has even been reported that, in some cases, knockoffs are made with molds stolen from legitimate Apple factories.

Next to luxury purses and bags (think Gucci, Louis Vuitton, etc.), Ray-Ban sunglasses, and Rolex watches, Apple has been cited as the most counterfeited tech brand in the world. Not hard to believe when you consider the popularity of Apple products in general and AirPods in particular. The independent website HeadphonesAddict.com pegged annual revenue attributable to the sales of AirPods alone at just over $12 billion in 2021. In other words, sales of fake AirPods is potentially a multi-billion dollar problem for Apple.

Counterfeiting is so pervasive that Apple has dedicated a team of experts to stopping the sale of counterfeit Apple products. A company spokesperson told Bloomberg in 2021 the team works with law enforcement agencies, merchants, social media companies, and e-commerce sites around the world to remove bogus Apple products from the market and noted, “In the last year we have sought the removal of over 1 million listings for counterfeit and fake Apple products from online marketplaces, including Facebook and Instagram.”

A simple search revealed a number of YouTube videos on how to spot a fake, including a video on Gen 1 AirPods Pro and one on AirPods Pro Gen 2. Both pit real Apple earbuds against bogus knockoffs and show in great detail what to look for on both the packaging and the earbuds themselves.

The host of the video featuring the Gen 2 earbuds, offers this sage advice: “If you open the Facebook Marketplace, most of those AirPods being sold there are, in fact, fake. So if you don’t buy your AirPods directly from Apple or an authorized reseller there is a really high chance you’re going to end up buying the fake ones believing you’re buying the original ones. I’ve actually done similar videos in the past on other Apple products and there are thousands of comments from people who got scammed into buying the fake ones. Nobody wants to spend 200 dollars on a pair of fake AirPods.”

The thing is, some of these knockoffs are surprisingly convincing and buyers think they’re getting an amazing deal — until they start to look a little closer.

Another video from 2019 highlighted several AirPod wannabes and knockoffs, including an Apple look-alike brazenly named “Knockies.” I didn’t find any active links to Knockies AirPod knockoffs suggesting that Apple’s crack team of counterfeiting sleuths may have caught up with the perps and knocked them off the market with a steep fine or two and maybe a little jail time thrown in for good measure. As the host of this video puts it, “This landscape is vast and bizarre and you don’t really know what’s what and what you’re going to get for your money.”

Like the old saying goes, If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Sound & Vision

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