It’s a sad truth that there are fake pieces of technology out there. Tech gadgets often cost a lot of money, and where there’s money to be made, there’ll be rip-offs. Obviously enough, you should think twice when considering buying a smartphone from a bloke on the corner with his goods in a suitcase. It could be a fake, it could be stolen – it could even be both of the above.
Counterfeiters can go to great lengths to mimic the look of popular products. For an overview of some of the most commonly copied gadgets and how to spot the fakes, read on…
Not so smartphones
Quality should be your guide. Look out for things like cheap logo stickers. Familiarise yourself with the look of the handset – fakes are fairly easy to spot from an error in font style or size on the face or back of the device, the icon design, and the layout on the home screen. If a smartphone isn’t immediately distinguishable as counterfeit by its appearance, then the next thing to check is the manual. While they might take a lot of trouble to make the device itself as believable as possible, counterfeiters often don’t take the time to reproduce the manual in the same way, substituting a flimsy foldout for what should be a thick guide.
It’s no surprise that Apple products are some of the most widely copied out there. The only real way to guarantee that you’re getting a real Apple product is to buy directly from an Apple store, Apple.com, or an authorised reseller, whether online or in-person. The company’s site provides a list of Apple stores and authorised resellers. Remember that you can buy refurbished devices from Apple, too, although not as cheaply as you can get second-hand elsewhere, of course.
Gone in a flash
It’s generally hard to tell that a USB stick is a fake until you go to use it. Common issues include getting the message "Please insert the disk," or the drive having less than the stated memory capacity, and missing bundled software. Another thing to look out for are models that don’t exist, like, for example, a laptop brand name used with a USB drive. Flash drives are not terribly expensive and are frequently a sale item at reliable retailers, so your best bet is just to buy one there.
Fit to print
Printer cartridges are the razor blades of the tech world. Printers themselves are priced more and more reasonably, and the cartridges to refill them have become the money-makers. The only pre-buy tipoffs for fakes are the low, low price and any packaging slip-ups like misspellings.
Out the Windows
Windows OS counterfeits abound. Microsoft advises purchasers to look for a certificate of authenticity, a proof of license label, and an edge-to-edge hologram on the disc itself (not on a sticker on the disc).
Chargers and batteries tend to be so generic looking that spotting a fake can be nearly impossible. For batteries, don’t buy anything that has a poorly executed attempt at a hologram. Chargers might have font style or size discrepancies from the real thing, or sport a fuzzy or low-contrast copy of the original label. If you’ve any doubt at all, walk away. It really isn’t worth buying questionable batteries or chargers since they can not only damage your much more expensive device, but possibly give you an electric shock or start a fire.