Threats of counterfeit mobile phones

May 23, 2019

Mobile phones have become a necessity for millions of people around the world. Everyday consumers utilise phones in different ways with its uses only limited by the imagination of consumers and developers. However, as mobile phone markets grow, counterfeit mobile phones are posing increasing problems for Governments and consumers around the world. Concerns for the safety of components, the safety of information as well as the durability of counterfeit phones have the potential to severely impact consumers. 

The case in Fiji is no different. The Council has registered more than 500 complaints on mobile products in the past three years and a significant portion of these complaints stem from the use of counterfeit parts or the sale of counterfeit phones. Consumers who purchased these phones reported that their phones heated up quickly, froze each time the batteries were charged and some were in constant need of maintenance. 

The Council has established that the demand for counterfeits is driven by their affordability considering that genuine or branded products are priced beyond the reach of many consumers. It is critically important however, that consumers be aware of the risks posed by counterfeit mobile phones and consider these risks carefully before purchasing them. 

Highlighted below are some risks and common issues pertinent to counterfeit mobile phones and which the consumers need to take serious heed of when buying mobile phones which are not genuine in nature.

  1. Hazardous substances in Counterfeit Mobile Phones – Studies on hazardous substances have illustrated the potential dangers posed by counterfeit phones. Some of these dangers are based around the parts used in the phones. A study was conducted in India by the Centre for Materials for Electronics Technology (C-MET) of Hyderabad. The study of 15 unbranded phone models were found to contain alarmingly high proportions of hazardous substances, especially lead (Pb). In some cases, the values were 35-40 times higher than the globally accepted limits for Pb. In contrast, mobile phones tested from global and recognized brands were found to be within the acceptable Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) limits, therefore, safe and fit for consumer use.
  2. Products must work as advertsied – Further issues which were identified with counterfeit phones was that they were not product certified.  Product certification ensures that the mobile phone performs the functions it purports to be able to perform, tests for interoperability and interference, and confirms it is safe for consumer use.
  3. Phones sold without warranty – Many counterfeit phones are sold without any warranty and as result consumers have no recourse when their counterfeit phones are damaged or cease to function. This leads to consumers spending more money to repair or replace the counterfeit phone. 
  4. Safety of information – Besides the cyber security threats of cybercrime, malware and hackers, counterfeit mobile phones are attractive devices for individuals engaged in organized crime. Counterfeits are not easily tracked given the fact they have invalid International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers or none at all.  IMEI numbers identify valid devices, and can stop a stolen phone from accessing a network. This also threatens the countries’ efforts to control mobile phone theft.

Consumer advice 

Traders must ensure that they respect these consumer rights when retailing mobile phones. It is unconscionable conduct for traders to continue to retail mobile products that pose threats to consumers or that do not perform as advertised. 

Consumers are also urged to ensure they shop around for the best possible phone. Below are some tips to follow. 

  • Check the availability of your desired phone, see if it has been launched yet, and research its RRP (Recommended Retail Price)
  • If you see a phone listed which hasn’t come out yet IT IS DEFINITELY FAKE!!
  • If the seller is offering a low price for a high value phone, IT IS DEFINITELY FAKE
  • Read the features on the listing and compare them to the genuine phone, if any part of the description on the listing is different, IT IS DEFINITELY FAKE!
  • Check the weight and features such as GPS or Wi-Fi, the cheap fakes tend to have dual SIM slots and none of the genuine features.
  • The camera resolution and built in memory are dead giveaways as well, for example, an N96 phone has 1.3MP camera and a memory card slot, even though the genuine has a 5MP camera and 16GB non-expandable memory. 

Consumers who are facing any issues with counterfeit mobile products can call the National Consumer Helpline on toll free number 155.