Counterfeit Phone Cases – How To Tell?

Posted November 12th, 2014 by Christopher in News | Leave a comment

So, phone cases are expensive. I should know – both being a fan of Otterbox products myself, and my business having around £3ks worth in stock comprising both Otterbox and LifeProof cases. They retail anywhere up to £100 for high end models, so like many other items there’s bound to be counterfeit ones around. This, people already know.

Unfortunately, they know it a bit too well. In fact, there’s so many fakes around, I routinely encounter people who believe even their genuine products are fake. Understandable given the lack of decent info around, and that obviously the genuine manufacturers aren’t likely to give away too many details on how to spot one, lest they tip off the ghost-shifters on what they’re doing wrong. That said, when manufacturers start receiving reports of genuine cases as fake, you know you have a big counterfeit issue.

So, let’s fix that shall we? First off, if you don’t know how counterfeit products are made, read Bunnie Huang’s writeup on counterfeit MicroSD cards, and quite how hard they are for even the brand owner to identify.

Luckily for us, phone cases aren’t quite that well faked yet. If you have an original, a fake, and a bit of experience, you can tell straight away. If you’re lacking any one of those, it gets a lot harder. On top of this, models and manufacturing processes differ over time, so what could help spot a fake at one time, suddenly becomes completely useless a few months later when newer revisions/models are released. Not helped by various “how to spot a fake…” guides online which ocasionally mis-identify real producs as fakes, and vice versa. So why not add another soon-to-be-useless guide to the list? ;) With that in mind…

DISCLAIMER: This info is correct at time of publication, for models presented. Not all factors will be present in fakes, some will be present in legitimate items, and everything will change over time. Use this as a guide only, do not link the images without links to this post and written explanations, and get more used to checking overall quality than any one individual factor.


They make the best cases. Hands down. (well, their rubber stretches far too quickly on newer models, but I’ll give them that – they’ve saved me about 10 cracked screens so far so what do i care :) ). They’re also the biggest target for counterfeiters. Here’s one, comparing an original iPhone 5S Defender (my own personal one, used and abused :) ) with a fake iPhone 5 Defender.

1. Packaging.
Usually made with a direct copy of an original, or with the same moulds, yet with cheaper ingerdients, and usually lacking the odd infrindging trademark (TM) or (R) character (quite why this matters when the entire product is counterfeit, who knows…). These can be seriously hard to tell apart given they’re usually direct copies, but here’s a few things to look out for:

- Condition – does it look new, or is it roughed up with cracks and worn paint? If so, is it an original that has just been stored poorly, or a fake that no one ever tried to store well?
- Contents – is it lacking specific markings on the artwork, or parts (such as hangers)? Again, designs change over time, so make sure you’re comparing like for like.
- Security Markings – does it have the correct hollograms / serial numbers? Hollograms are almost always identicle, though serial numbers will be missing or duplicated (if you only have one, you’ll never know).
- Moulding Quality – are all the markings and physical moulds clear and legible? Fakes will usually use reproduced moulds that have the same effect as a photocopy – loosing some detail and looking slightly worn down against an original.

- Otterboxes usually use stickers to present the iPhone model and QR code. Fakes prefer to print them on, and not in a uniform fashion either. If you have lots of fakes, it’s unlikely they’ll all match up. But immediately you have our first problem – originally Otterbox also printed them on, as you can see in the original here. However the fake is also missing the hanger – too much cost for the counterfeiters to bother with – although they also fall off the originals quite easily, so there’s no definitive sign here.

The fake is missing the barcode lable. Or is it simply an original where someone’s removed a barcode lable?

Luckily (or not) I did once have a batch of fakes to look over – some of the holograms were missing the double pass, and only had Otterbox running in one direction. Other fakes were perfect, much like this one. And originals can still have some blemishes or scratches to them depending on their storage conditions.

You can’t see it too well, but the original mould is very clear, whilst the signs in the fake are much more worn down, with an obviously different manufacturing process and various tooling marks still present. Other than that, this part was identicle, with the same part number as the 5S original.

2. Documents.
Again, any fakes are usually made from a direct copy of an original, though sometimes photocopied, and sometimes missing trademarks or other info present in the original, sometimes with generic info in them. Anyone used to spotting fake video games (specifically DS cartridges) knows the deal with printing – slightly faded, somewhat obvious photocopy. The rest really needs an identicle original to compare with.

Don’t be sidetracked by the clear and white body of the otter, and differing sizes. The fake is simply a copy of an original where Otterbox started using white otters instead of transparent ones (the latter being much less common in the lakes around Mexico ;) ). Instead, simply check the quality – is it a photocopy? Are you sure? If not, it could still be fake. Or real.

Due to my lack of camera focusing skills, it’s still not easy to see. Worse – the fake one actually has better visual quality in the face images (probably due to all the blurry artifacts of the original being removed by the copy process). Even worse, the real one has mis-aligned printing, whilst the fake is much better aligned (see QR code alignment) – a trait usually the other way round. In person, when compared with an original, you can tell. Otherwise, move on…

3. Accessories.
Are they included? Do they have all the correct branding? Are they good quality? Answer being: Yes, usually, mostly. Yet again, without an original to compare very specific info with, you’re out of luck. In addition, the originals will change over time, so the easy pointers below likely no longer apply. Other than overall quality, it’s usually very hard to tell.

Otterboxes will usually say Made In China, or Made In Mexico. So will the fakes, so forget that. Baring in mind the fake shown is a direct replica of the exact original product to the left, you can immediately see it’s lacking the original’s circular mould point where the clip housing on the top side is presumably moulded in to the base, unlike the fake. Sadly, this has already changed in later models, and the same circular mould point isn’t present even on genuine products.
Overall though, the fake is made from slightly lower quality plastic (less shiny, and smoother to the touch than the original), and the clip makes a slightly wobbling noise when shook. The original belt clips are always tight, and don’t move or rattle when shook. Unless they’re just faulty. Yet again, you won’t know without multiple items to compare.

The item.

The counterfeit case, in all it’s glory. No, you can’t tell simply by looking or feeling this. It is, effectively, genuine until proven guilty, and that’s not easy either. The only difference is the manufacturing ingredients are just slightly cheaper – the plastic is cheaper (but not by much) and the rubber is cheaper (frankly, I’m only assuming this – you can’t tell).

Here’s the rear. Please ignore my worn and stretched black rubber cover. Sadly, the logo doesn’t differ – in fact, everything is identicle between the fake and original.

Our first clue – the fake has very slightly smoother bumps on the plastic than the original. You can’t tell without an original next to you, and even then it could just be down to a change in manufacturing process by Otterbox, or slightly differing makeup of the plastic used for different colours. Not much of a giveaway.

inb4 “clean your case!”. Here we actually have the only consistent difference – the moulding in Otterbox rubber sleeves is generally depressed (stamped) inwards. The fake one protrudes outwards. I checked this against 4, 5, 5S and 6 defender cases – all originals go inwards. That said, I only had one batch of fakes to check, so other fakes may well get this bit right.

The insides. Quite simply, these are near identicle to a genuine product (possible minor exception – the back padding is very very slightly thinner). Don’t even bother looking for clues here.

Moral of the story?

Never look at any one factor and assume it’s fake, despite what I or anyone else tells you. When a product excibits numerous differing potentially fake signs, it probably is. Otherwise, you may well just have a badly stored original, or you bought a Griffin case by mistake. Silly, silly you. :)


Coming soon…

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