Apple has fallen victim to a particular ironic scam in China. The same warranty program loophole that the company exploited until being exposed by a state-run TV program has now been mirrored by a creative money-grabbing scheme by staff an at electrical store.
Once a year, Chinese state TV airs a high-profile consumer rights show. In this year’s episode, one of the main stories was about the way Apple took liberties with its returns policy when dealing with faulty devices, in a way it didn’t do in other countries.
It turned out that whenever Apple “replaced” an iPhone it was actually taking a new handset but affixing the back cover from the old, faulty handset. That seemingly strange practice meant that technically the customer was receiving back his or her original handset rather than getting a replacement phone. That in turn meant Apple’s warranty period didn’t reset as it would with a replacement item.
Although a legitimate criticism, there’s some suspicion about the motives of those making the program, along with state-run newspapers launching a sustained attack on Apple in the following weeks. There was even a series of supposedly spontaneous tweets made by Chinese celebrities when the show aired, though unfortunately one poster forgot to delete a line instructing him exactly when to post a supplied statement.
Apple later apologised over the incident and changed its policies so that people will get the full warranty period from when their phone is replaced.
It now turns out that scammers have been taking advantage of the same warranty program to rip Apple off. Five workers at an electrical retailer are accused of sending in what appeared to be faulty iPhone parts and getting replacements from Apple, which apparently not only couldn’t diagnose the supposed fault, but didn’t even notice the parts were bogus.
The part in question is reported by Chinese media as the “BAND” and appears to effectively be most of the innards of the iPhone. It appears the bogus parts were set up in a way that meant they couldn’t be used to boot up whatsoever, meaning there was no prospect of Apple attempting to fix them.
The parts must have been credible enough to pass whatever visual inspections Apple carried out as for some time it was happily shipping replacements to the scammers.
They then took these genuine replacement parts, fitted a battery and new back casing, and sold them as “new” iPhones, pocketing a healthy profit. They appear to have sold 121 such “build your own iPhones” before being caught.
For the moment the people who bought these devices will probably be happy enough as they have technically got an iPhone made up entirely of genuine parts. However, if they ever have to make a warranty claim, things could get very confusing.