As New iPhones Arrive, Watch Out for Apple Knockoffs on the Resale Market

Apple iphone XS

Even the most experienced iPhone inspectors have been fooled by knockoffs. NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images

The newest generation of iPhones—the iPhone XR, iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max—arrive in stores on Thursday. In tandem, the used phone market will see a rare boom this year, as a record number of aspiring new iPhone owners (both the iPhone XS and XS Max sold out online from pre-orders) are putting their old iPhones up for sale on the second-hand market to justify the new models’ sky-high prices.

With new phones, authenticity is usually not an issue as long as you purchase directly from Apple or your mobile network carrier. However, if you are considering buying a gently used iPhone X or an older model from the resale market, you should take special caution to make sure what you’re buying is the real Apple deal, because counterfeit iPhones and iPhone accessories do exist in the U.S. And, as past instances have shown, some of the copycats have gotten extremely good at cloning Apple’s cutting-edge devices—at least on the surface.

In August of last year, smartphone experts at the Cult of Mac, a breaking news site for Apple fans that offers a gadget buy-back program, came across a knockoff rose gold iPhone 7 that looked astonishingly similar to the real thing. The resale experts, who would go through hundreds of used iPhones a day, were fooled by the fake phone’s flawless appearance until they tested its operating system, which turned out to be a version of Android that was hacked into an iOS lookalike.

This year, a Vice reporter found a high-quality counterfeit iPhone X for just $100 in Shenzhen, China. The phone was so indistinguishable the report thought “that maybe we’d just somehow gotten an insane deal on a real iPhone X.”

But the operating system, too, turned out to be a doctored version of Android.

Of course, the knockoff phones are just the tip of the iceberg. There is also an entire army of less ambitious copycats who specialize in making counterfeit iPhone accessories, such as chargers and cables.

In 2016, Apple brought a major lawsuit against Amazon after discovering that Amazon (not third-party sellers) had been selling counterfeit Apple chargers to U.S. consumers.

The lawsuit alleged that these fake accessories were made in China and Hong Kong. Electronics dealers, mainly in New York and New Jersey, would buy them in bulk and then sell the batches that had escaped the customs inspection process to Amazon. Those fake Apple accessories were much cheaper than the original ones. (You could get an iPhone charger for $3.) However, Apple warns that the ultra-low price of dubious Apple products is not worth the safety risk involved.

A counterfeit or uncertified charger, for example, could overheat your phone, disrupt your syncing between devices or even damage your phone permanently, Apple warns on its website. 

As New iPhones Arrive, Watch Out for Apple Knockoffs on the Resale Market