Counterfeit iPhone traffickers behind $6.1 million con at Apple Stores are going to prison

It’s normally pretty easy to get your broken iPhone replaced at Apple’s Genius Bar under your AppleCare plan, but a (criminally) enterprising sibling duo found a way to trick the system by swapping counterfeit devices with real ones. Unfortunately for them, they got caught in 2019 attempting to exchange 10,000 fake Apple products over the course of eight years, and this week, they’ve been sentenced to federal prison, the Times of San Diego reports.

San Diego residents Zhimin and Zhiting Liao (also known as Jimmy and Allen Liao) netted themselves around $6.1 million of genuine Apple products, including iPhones and iPads, that they ended up exporting to buyers in foreign countries. The brothers received 41-month federal prison sentences. Their more than three years of imprisonment is part of a plea deal that includes forfeiture of five San Diego residences the brothers had an interest in, $250,000 they earned from the scheme, and 200 iPhones tied up in the scheme.

The brothers’ spouses pleaded guilty to their involvement as well and were sentenced to three years of probation. Meanwhile, a third brother, Zhiwei Liao, will face sentencing later this month. Another eight co-conspirators also pleaded guilty.

The Liaos aren’t the only ones who have run a fake-for-real swap scheme; a college student in Oregon was convicted in 2019 for scamming Apple Stores. The student would take fake dud iPhones that had under warranty serial numbers printed on them into Apple Stores. When the Genius Bar couldn’t discount the phones as possibly being real, he would get fresh replacements that he’d send back to China for money. (This particular trick might be harder to pull off today now that Apple is serializing more internal components than ever before.)

The Liao’s scheme, however, was much more ambitious. According to the Times of San Diego, prosecutors said that Zhimin Liao had personally visited 105 Apple Stores in 22 states to try and exchange about 720 fake iPhones and iPads. Zhiting Liao’s quest involved about 718 device swap attempts in at least 200 Apple Stores in 18 US states and Canada.

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