Up to more than 90 percent of smartphones offered on some online platforms are counterfeit – this was now revealed by recent test purchases. The research by an expert magazine shows how boldly counterfeiters act to deceive buyers.

Trade in counterfeits remains a massive issue in e-commerce. This is the current conclusion of the trade magazine c’t, following new test purchases and research on relevant online marketplaces. This time, the testers focused on counterfeit smartphones – and the enormous scale of the problem exceeded even the testers’ expectations. At some online shops, all test purchases turned out to be counterfeit – with no exception.

The altogether eleven samples were all delivered with an identical-looking USB power supply without CE mark, which did not meet necessary safety regulations and should not have been sold on the German market; five of the samples were even delivered in the same white box. The phones themselves, however, showed differences. The testers assume that different manufacturers might be buying up leftover stocks of old smartphones and then installing their components in new housings. Translation errors in the software, misprints on the products, incorrect instruction manuals, and faulty sensors are further indicators that the products are counterfeit. Many shipments also included microSD cards as a free gift – according to the report, these were also counterfeit and had significantly less storage space than specified.

The issue is particularly widespread on the U.S. platform Wish.com and the Chinese marketplace AliExpress, according to c’t: There, retailers offer supposedly high-end products, for example with support for the new 5G mobile communications standard and with up to 16 GB RAM and 512 GB flash memory. Sometimes heavily reduced prices make the offers suspicious even at first glance. On Wish.com, for example, this applied to 91 products in 100 search results; on AliExpress, this sometimes affected 64 offers, sometimes 17 offers in trials with different browsers. However, the testers also found some conspicuous offers on the online marketplaces Amazon and eBay.

During their research, the testers identified presumed counterfeits using the brand name of the original manufacturer or the names of well-known smartphone models; some of these also copied the packaging and accessories. Most frequently, however, the testers found counterfeits with cases and names that were based on brand-name smartphones, but which refrained from the unauthorized use of the logo and original manufacturer’s name. Some other products were even offered under fantasy names. What all these offers had in common was that they promoted high-end features and that their operating systems were manipulated so that the system settings seemed to confirm the claims. On Wish.com, the testers also noticed products supposedly shipped from Germany; possibly to gain buyers’ trust. Research for one of the products for example showed that the German shipping address given did not exist.

If customers fall victim to a scammer, the platforms offer different options. With AliExpress, for example, the customer must first contact the retailer before the platform itself takes action. In one of the recent cases, the retailer denied the allegations and wanted the buyer to bear the costs of a return shipment to China. The testers could only open an official dispute with AliExpress via the app. In this process, the buyer generally starts by suggesting how much money he wants to get back; the seller can then respond with a counteroffer. Only if buyer and retailer have not come to an agreement does AliExpress act – in the case in question, AliExpress assured the refund without having to return the counterfeit; however, the retailer was not blocked. At Wish.com, a buyer can file a complaint directly with the platform, and a solution was promised within 48 hours. Only after several reminders, however, did Wish.com offer a refund of 50 percent of the purchase price. And only by vehemently refusing this, the full amount was refunded. However, the vendor also remained active at Wish.com.

Counterfeit electronics apparently remain a massive issue in e-commerce. Last year, a random check by c’t revealed a booming trade in fake storage media on various platforms; before that, the trade magazine had already discussed the trade in counterfeit graphics cards on eBay.

Source: c’t Magazin