Recently, a cybersecurity researcher Andrea Stroppa had an iPhone charger explode on him. The charger was borrowed from a friend of his and was a counterfeit Apple product brought through an unofficial dealer on Instagram. Stroppa and his colleagues at Ghost Data Team decided to investigate the exploding incident and discovered some shocking information.
As reported by Bloomberg, Stroppa and his colleagues found that Chinese illicit factories and wholesale vendors are using Instagram to sell counterfeit Apple accessories such as AirPods, lightning cables, iPhone batteries, and USB power adapters. The fake products are sold at discounted prices of as much as 10x. This may seem like a good deal to consumers, but these products are not held to Apple’s quality and security standards – which explains the exploding charger.
Unauthorized vendors sell counterfeit Apple products on Instagram including exploding chargers
This counterfeit operation has become a multimillion-dollar global business with Europe and the U.S. according to the report. According to the team, the aim of their investigation is to show how Instagram has failed to monitor the counterfeit market on its platform.
“Our study aims at exposing Instagram’s difficulties, or unwillingness, to properly address its long-standing counterfeit market and also to highlight the many dangers of such illicit business for Apple and consumers alike,” the researchers said. Facebook is “guilty of failing to adequately invest and protect American businesses and citizens around the world who use its platform.”
A spokesperson of Facebook said that buying and selling counterfeit goods on Instagram violates the company’s policy. It was also said that social media regularly responds to reports of counterfeit posts in as fast as a few hours.
“We have devoted more resources to our global notice-and-takedown program, which has made us quicker in taking action,” the spokesperson said. “While there’s always more work to do, we now regularly respond to reports of counterfeit content within one day, and often within a matter of hours.”
Stroppa and his colleagues investigated 163 counterfeiters for a month and discovered that their Instagram accounts had uploaded 50,000 posts promoting fake Apple products like chargers, AirPods, and more. The most common counterfeit products were AirPods Pro and the new MagSafe Charger.
“Unlike the for counterfeit luxury items, which is mostly based on WeChat Pay and PayPal transactions, the preferred payment systems for the fake Apple products were bank wire transfers and credit cards, the study found. The report includes bills posted by vendors of the counterfeit merchandise, including one seller who grossed $140,000 in a single day of online sales through his HSBC personal banking account, Ghost Data reports.”
In response to the investigation sparked by the exploding charger, an Apple spokesperson said “The safety of our customers is our first priority, and the risks associated with counterfeit products can be very serious,” they went on to talk about the company’s effort against removing counterfeit Apple products from the market.
“We have a dedicated team of experts constantly working with law enforcement, merchants, social media companies and e-commerce sites around the world to remove counterfeit products from the market. In the last year we have sought the removal of over 1 million listings for counterfeit and fake Apple products from online marketplaces, including Facebook and Instagram.”
The research teams noted that Chinese manufacturers and wholesalers providing the supply of dangerous fake products were at fault as much as the online resellers.
“It seems also quite ironic that Chinese individuals and organizations are using a U.S.-based social media network, blocked in their own country for security reasons, exactly to do business particularly at the expense of a major US company,”