What just happened? A pair of Chinese nationals who tried to defraud Apple out of millions of dollars’ worth of iPhones have been found guilty of mail fraud. The Maryland residents used 5,000 counterfeit iPhones in an attempt to trick Apple into replacing them with genuine handsets.

A federal jury in the District of Columbia convicted Haotian Sun and Pengfei Xue over their plan to steal more than $3 million from Apple.

Between May 2017 and September 2019, the duo along with their co-conspirators received shipments of counterfeit iPhones from Hong Kong. They then submitted the fake handsets, using spoofed serial numbers and/or IMEI numbers from real handsets, to Apple retail stores and Apple Authorized Service Providers, claiming they had been damaged and needed replacing under warranty.

More than 5,000 counterfeit phones were submitted to Apple during the two-year period. The complaint suggests that Apple actually fell for the trick and replaced the fakes with real iPhones more than 2,700 times. It was only when an Apple brand investigator realized the parts were fake and the serial numbers spoofed that law enforcement was informed.

The DoJ writes that Sun opened eight UPS Store mailboxes using his Maryland driver’s license and university identification card in 2017. US postal inspectors discovered the counterfeit iPhones being sent to the mailboxes and arrested Sun and Xue in December 2019.

Also Read: MIT’s minuscule terahertz RFID tag foils counterfeiters with metallic glue

The defendants, both 33 years old, were convicted by a jury of mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. They are scheduled to be sentenced on June 21, with each facing a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

It seems the fake iPhone scam is a particularly popular one. In 2019, two Chinese engineering students conned Cupertino out of almost $1 million worth of iPhones using exactly the same exchange-fake-for-new trick.

Also in 2019, the DoJ indicted 17 people involved in a massive counterfeiting scheme. The group scammed Apple out of $6.1 million by exchanging more than 10,000 fake Chinese iPhones and iPads for real ones in Apple Stores in the US and Canada.

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