Counterfeit Phone Cases – How To Tell?

So, phone cases are expensive. I should know – both being a fan of Otterbox products myself, and my business having around £3ks worth in stock comprising both Otterbox and LifeProof cases. They retail anywhere up to £100 for high end models, so like many other items there’s bound to be counterfeit ones around. This, people already know.

Unfortunately, they know it a bit too well. In fact, there’s so many fakes around, I routinely encounter people who believe even their genuine products are fake. Understandable given the lack of decent info around, and that obviously the genuine manufacturers aren’t likely to give away too many details on how to spot one, lest they tip off the ghost-shifters on what they’re doing wrong. That said, when manufacturers start receiving reports of genuine cases as fake, you know you have a big counterfeit issue.

So, let’s fix that shall we? First off, if you don’t know how counterfeit products are made, read Bunnie Huang’s writeup on counterfeit MicroSD cards, and quite how hard they are for even the brand owner to identify.

Luckily for us, phone cases aren’t quite that well faked yet. If you have an original, a fake, and a bit of experience, you can tell straight away. If you’re lacking any one of those, it gets a lot harder. On top of this, models and manufacturing processes differ over time, so what could help spot a fake at one time, suddenly becomes completely useless a few months later when newer revisions/models are released. Not helped by various “how to spot a fake…” guides online which ocasionally mis-identify real producs as fakes, and vice versa. So why not add another soon-to-be-useless guide to the list? 😉 With that in mind…

DISCLAIMER: This info is correct at time of publication, for models presented. Not all factors will be present in fakes, some will be present in legitimate items, and everything will change over time. Use this as a guide only, do not link the images without links to this post and written explanations, and get more used to checking overall quality than any one individual factor.


They make the best cases. Hands down. (well, their rubber stretches far too quickly on newer models, but I’ll give them that – they’ve saved me about 10 cracked screens so far so what do i care 🙂 ). They’re also the biggest target for counterfeiters. Here’s one, comparing an original iPhone 5S Defender (my own personal one, used and abused 🙂 ) with a fake iPhone 5 Defender.

1. Packaging.
Usually made with a direct copy of an original, or with the same moulds, yet with cheaper ingerdients, and usually lacking the odd infrindging trademark (TM) or (R) character (quite why this matters when the entire product is counterfeit, who knows…). These can be seriously hard to tell apart given they’re usually direct copies, but here’s a few things to look out for:

– Condition – does it look new, or is it roughed up with cracks and worn paint? If so, is it an original that has just been stored poorly, or a fake that no one ever tried to store well?
– Contents – is it lacking specific markings on the artwork, or parts (such as hangers)? Again, designs change over time, so make sure you’re comparing like for like.
– Security Markings – does it have the correct hollograms / serial numbers? Hollograms are almost always identicle, though serial numbers will be missing or duplicated (if you only have one, you’ll never know).
– Moulding Quality – are all the markings and physical moulds clear and legible? Fakes will usually use reproduced moulds that have the same effect as a photocopy – loosing some detail and looking slightly worn down against an original.

– Otterboxes usually use stickers to present the iPhone model and QR code. Fakes prefer to print them on, and not in a uniform fashion either. If you have lots of fakes, it’s unlikely they’ll all match up. But immediately you have our first problem – originally Otterbox also printed them on, as you can see in the original here. However the fake is also missing the hanger – too much cost for the counterfeiters to bother with – although they also fall off the originals quite easily, so there’s no definitive sign here.

The fake is missing the barcode lable. Or is it simply an original where someone’s removed a barcode lable?

Luckily (or not) I did once have a batch of fakes to look over – some of the holograms were missing the double pass, and only had Otterbox running in one direction. Other fakes were perfect, much like this one. And originals can still have some blemishes or scratches to them depending on their storage conditions.

You can’t see it too well, but the original mould is very clear, whilst the signs in the fake are much more worn down, with an obviously different manufacturing process and various tooling marks still present. Other than that, this part was identicle, with the same part number as the 5S original.

2. Documents.
Again, any fakes are usually made from a direct copy of an original, though sometimes photocopied, and sometimes missing trademarks or other info present in the original, sometimes with generic info in them. Anyone used to spotting fake video games (specifically DS cartridges) knows the deal with printing – slightly faded, somewhat obvious photocopy. The rest really needs an identicle original to compare with.

Don’t be sidetracked by the clear and white body of the otter, and differing sizes. The fake is simply a copy of an original where Otterbox started using white otters instead of transparent ones (the latter being much less common in the lakes around Mexico 😉 ). Instead, simply check the quality – is it a photocopy? Are you sure? If not, it could still be fake. Or real.

Due to my lack of camera focusing skills, it’s still not easy to see. Worse – the fake one actually has better visual quality in the face images (probably due to all the blurry artifacts of the original being removed by the copy process). Even worse, the real one has mis-aligned printing, whilst the fake is much better aligned (see QR code alignment) – a trait usually the other way round. In person, when compared with an original, you can tell. Otherwise, move on…

3. Accessories.
Are they included? Do they have all the correct branding? Are they good quality? Answer being: Yes, usually, mostly. Yet again, without an original to compare very specific info with, you’re out of luck. In addition, the originals will change over time, so the easy pointers below likely no longer apply. Other than overall quality, it’s usually very hard to tell.

Otterboxes will usually say Made In China, or Made In Mexico. So will the fakes, so forget that. Baring in mind the fake shown is a direct replica of the exact original product to the left, you can immediately see it’s lacking the original’s circular mould point where the clip housing on the top side is presumably moulded in to the base, unlike the fake. Sadly, this has already changed in later models, and the same circular mould point isn’t present even on genuine products.
Overall though, the fake is made from slightly lower quality plastic (less shiny, and smoother to the touch than the original), and the clip makes a slightly wobbling noise when shook. The original belt clips are always tight, and don’t move or rattle when shook. Unless they’re just faulty. Yet again, you won’t know without multiple items to compare.

The item.

The counterfeit case, in all it’s glory. No, you can’t tell simply by looking or feeling this. It is, effectively, genuine until proven guilty, and that’s not easy either. The only difference is the manufacturing ingredients are just slightly cheaper – the plastic is cheaper (but not by much) and the rubber is cheaper (frankly, I’m only assuming this – you can’t tell).

Here’s the rear. Please ignore my worn and stretched black rubber cover. Sadly, the logo doesn’t differ – in fact, everything is identicle between the fake and original.

Our first clue – the fake has very slightly smoother bumps on the plastic than the original. You can’t tell without an original next to you, and even then it could just be down to a change in manufacturing process by Otterbox, or slightly differing makeup of the plastic used for different colours. Not much of a giveaway.

inb4 “clean your case!”. Here we actually have the only consistent difference – the moulding in Otterbox rubber sleeves is generally depressed (stamped) inwards. The fake one protrudes outwards. I checked this against 4, 5, 5S and 6 defender cases – all originals go inwards. That said, I only had one batch of fakes to check, so other fakes may well get this bit right.

The insides. Quite simply, these are near identicle to a genuine product (possible minor exception – the back padding is very very slightly thinner). Don’t even bother looking for clues here.

Moral of the story?

Never look at any one factor and assume it’s fake, despite what I or anyone else tells you. When a product excibits numerous differing potentially fake signs, it probably is. Otherwise, you may well just have a badly stored original, or you bought a Griffin case by mistake. Silly, silly you. 🙂


Coming soon…

VAT Invoicing – The Bad, The Badder, The Baddest

VAT. The source of so much enjoyment, amusement and, evidently, blog posts.

Continuing from my previously, much less educated view on VAT fraud, evasion, and general ignorance by major UK companies (see The Trouble With Games Retail and Are major retailers scamming £Ms from HMRC?, here’s some more legal stuff, and general naming and shaming covering the issuing of correct VAT receipts. Cos it’s not like I have anything better to do on Sundays…


Firstly, the law.

It is an obligation under uk law (The Value Added Tax Regulations 1995, Part II, Regulation 13) for VAT registered sellers to supply a VAT invoice when request to do so by another VAT registered individual. Failure to do so is an offence of said act, though the exact punishment I’m yet to find out (general VAT fraud is a criminal offence punishable by up to 7 years in jail – see ).

VAT invoices should be issued within a specific time period relevant to the supply of the goods/service – see .

VAT invoices may contain varying amounts of data depending on the specific type of VAT invoice supplied/allowable – see .

And this is all required to, amongst other things, allow a VAT registered individual to correctly file VAT returns and other related documentation. Failure to do so is also illegal (another 7 years in jail await) and covered by the Finance Act 2007, schedule 24 – . Specifically, it’s an offence to have an “inaccuracy in a document as a result of third party providing incorrect (or withholding) information” – see . So if you mess your own return up because someone else didn’t give you the right receipt, too bad.

Fortunately, HMRC see receipt witholding as such a “systematic and widespread attack on the VAT system”, they introduced guidance, backed by law ( Section 24(6)(a) of the Value Added Tax Regulations 1994 ) to combat this. This guidance is called “Input tax deduction without a valid VAT invoice – Statement of Practice” and is available at . In summary though, if you don’t have a VAT invoice, one should basically figure it out your damn self. But keep enough evidence to show how, and why, you did this. Which is nice of them, considering if you do get it wrong (or don’t do it at all, effectively leading to getting it wrong), you’re in breach of FA 2007, and liable to 7 years prison time.

I’m not a lawyer, or an accountant, so I may be wrong in some places. But you get the idea. It’s illegal to refuse a VAT receipt, highly problematic (pottentially leading to a criminal offence) not to have one, and a whole heap of fun to resolve when you don’t.


So, with that in mind, let’s see how many UK VAT registered individuals follow the receipting law. Or, any VAT laws at all for that matter. Did any of the UK’s biggest retail companies manage to get it right? Did they heck…


Curveball Leisure Limited, trading as The Game Collection
This is an old one, but I figure I’ll start from the beginning. But it does mean this has likely changed / got better since I last used them (and I don’t want to piss them off too much). But a few years back, whilst they did issue otherwise valid VAT receipts (if not quite the actual stock they’re for), they did manage to provide a highly inaccurate VAT calculation – ignoring any discounts given on orders and merely providing a VAT figure for the pre-adjustment price. In other words, they’d told you you’d been charged more VAT than you actually had been. Let’s hope their actual VAT returns were more accurate. And their customer’s VAT Returns were too. Else you’re both liable for jail.

Game Digital plc (formerly The Game Group plc)
Who like to leave it up to their untrained store managers to provide hand-written VAT invoices. That’s if they don’t hand you a Retail Export Scheme invoice (plus, hopefully, a VAT 407 form). Luckily Game generally “forget” to provide most stores with these, so it’s back to basics, with the manager dividing your total by 6. Unless of course the VAT rate just changed, which is unfortunately, considering at least one GAME store manager when questioned was unaware of an increase a couple of weeks before it happened. Anyway, even if they do get the correct VAT rate, they’re no doubt completely unaware of the differing VAT schemes in play, meaning VAT is not necessarily charged on all items, at the same rate. Or, even, what details should actually be present on your VAT receipt. Long story short, even your VAT receipt won’t, technically, be a VAT receipt.

Amazon EU S.a.r.L.
Actually, these guys ain’t bad. Whilst they don’t issue a physical VAT receipt, or have any form of VAT receipt available through their website, and, whilst they do provide a VAT figure on order receipts, this is most likely incorrect (…pending confirmation…) – despite all of that, they do actually have an entire department purely for issuing VAT invoices. Just e-mail your Amazon order number an VAT invoice request over to and they’ll do the rest. Hopefully. I’m still waiting for mine… UPDATE: Wow. Close to correct. Not sure about the 0% VAT… That’s Amazon for you though, always finding a way around the VAT laws 🙂 .

Entertainment Magpie Limited
Trading as the nationally recognised Music Magpie, Zoverstocks, That’s Entertainment and Estocks. A “Sunday Times Tech Track 100” company. A national award winner. Hands down the largest used-media retailer in the UK. The accolades could go on and on. Luckily, their VAT invoice refusal didn’t, and was short and sweet:
“all invoices and notifications are provided by (insert 3rd party marketplace). We do not include any paperwork in our parcels, as all the information you require should be in the confirmation emails sent by (insert 3rd party marketplace)”. – Customer Services, zOverstocks
Unfortunately in this case, the 3rd party marketplace was Amazon. Who, like every other marketplace, don’t issue VAT invoices (or, in Amazon’s case, any invoice at all) on behalf of 3rd Party marketplace sellers.

Eaglemoss Publications Ltd
One of the world’s largest publishers of magazine collections. A €230 million global turnover. And a UK VAT registered company. Surprising then that publishing a VAT receipt – or, indeed, any receipt at all – appears to go beyond their capabilities. Here’s a quote from one of their outsourced, contracted CS agents (presumably manager, this was the second refusal I was given, and much more formal) relating to a magazine subscription / ongoing purchase order:
“Since subscriptions are almost universally to individuals rather than companies, we don’t have a facility to issue a separate VAT receipt.” – Customer Experience Department, Data Base Factory Ltd.
Apparently I’m just too individual for them. Coming from a comic book publisher, that boosts the fuck out of my street cred, at least.

Forbidden Planet Limited
“The World’s #1 for Comics, Merchandise & More!”. But, so far, the World’s Worst for following VAT regulations. If you were to simply go off their retail website – – you’d be fogiven for believing they weren’t even VAT registered at all. Breaching more VAT regulations than I can count, not only do they fail to provide VAT invoices or details of VAT charged, they also make no mention – anywhere at all (inc. all paper or electronic documentation or correspondance) – of their VAT registration number or VAT registered status. In fact, the only place the word VAT is even mentioned on their website is in their terms at , which merely suggests that VAT is included “where appropriate”. Which means nothing, given the former lack of details suggest it would never be appropriate at all.
But alas, one of the world’s largest comic and media merchandise retailer is indeed VAT registered. Or, at least, their parent company is – Titan Entertainment Group Limited GB991291493 . So the following quote rests on their shoulders then:
Unfortunately we are not able to provide a VAT receipt” – Customer Service Team.

Next time, the smaller guys get a grilling. And some very interesting Import arangements…’s VAT on PlayTrade fees.

What is it? Beats me. Here’s my attempt to work it out.’s helpdesk states the following (edited for simplicity):

When you make a sale on PlayTrade the proceeds of the sale are deposited into your PlayFunds account, less a commission fee of 10% of the sale price plus a 50p closing fee. ( Subscribers to our ProTrader scheme pay just 10% commission when an item sells. ProTraders do not pay the additional 50p closing fee. )

When you withdraw money from your PlayFunds account we deposit the money directly into your bank account, less a transfer fee of 5% of the balance transferred.

Subscription to our ProTrader scheme costs just £19.99 per month. As well as receiving a discount on fees, ProTraders are able to list more than 50 items for sale at any one time, and also gain access to our ProTrader volume selling tools.

All of our fees include VAT where applicable. If you are a VAT-registered business within the EU you may qualify for VAT-exclusive fees.

And that’s about it. To get the full story, I had to contact their merchant helpdesk. Luckily they’re a lot more clued up on VAT than any other retail employees I’ve asked about VAT in the past. The answer?

Dear Merchant,

Thank you for your email.

The only part where you’re not quite correct is the VAT excluded commission fee which is rounded up to 9.35%. and yes, the 5% transfer fee is not affected by being VAT registered. Doing some quick maths, 9.35% of 419.65 comes to £39.23 (£39.24 if you round up), your commission and handling fee added together comes to £39.21.

Hopufully this makes sense and all adds up. Please let me know if not.

Kind Regards


So, to clarify:

  • Closing fee = 43p ex 15% VAT = 50p inc.
  • ProTrader Subscription Fee = £17.38 ex 15% VAT = £19.99 inc.
  • Comission Fee = made up of two seperate charges, the actual commision fee ( 4.3478 percent ex 15% VAT = 5 percent total ) plus a payment transaction fee of 5%, not liable for VAT due to it being a financial service – sneaky that, eh? In reality, the 4.3478 is rounded up to 4.35%, so VAT registered sellers can expect a total 9.35% final comission fee.
  • And finally, there’s the Payment Transfer fee of 5% – again, a financial service not liable for VAT.

So, the VAT registered ProTrader can expect to pay £17.38 per month + 14.35% per transaction after banking, versus £19.99 & 15% for non-VAT registered dealers.

Price Grabbing

So they don’t exist as an independent entity anymore, but their marketplace may start becoming more useful to myself. The final decision comes down to price, but how to incoporate these in to iGPC?

AFAIK, has no API*, no RSS feeds, no mobile site, no other simplified way of accessing data – hell, their site doesn’t even allow search by barcode. So, how do? Same as eBay.

* Actually, they do have an API, though the primary one is only available to subscription ProTraders, and only allows limited functionality to reference current items being sold under your account, no wider access to the catalogue.

The plus side is, tents to use (and *only* use) the official manufacture titles for items, and like Amazon (or even more so) they only show up in a single item page. Which means a search through the standard site, in the right category, for the proper title, should bring up your item as either the only result, or at least the first result.

Double plus, the current lowest New and Used prices are shown on the same page – given’s inevitable high reliance on people simply picking the lowest priced item (an educated guess at this point), this is probably the only price you wanna pay attention to.

A standard URL search string is this, which is normally shown in a textualised form to end users when browsing (eg. …/Games/PlayStation 3/Consoles/…):

Option A (using only searchfilters query):{XCOM:+Enemy+Unknown}+c{362}+c{10065}+

Option B (seperate searchstring and searchfilters queries, primary difference being this will visually display the category navigation on the page):{362}+c{10065}+

URL and Query Formatting: – Search root.
searchfilters= – Prefix to any filters relating to search queries.
s{Title Here} – Search string, insert title between brackets, standard real-world formatting can be used (eg. “Here: Is an – Example”) but preferably convert spaces to “+”. Blame unix. Or blame windows for ever allowing them without. Or something.
+ – Seperates any search filter – as above, you can leave them out, but best not…
c{362} – Root category, this *must* go before any subcategory. In this case, it’s Games. Full list added below shortly.
c{10065} – Primary Sub category, in this case PlayStation 3. These can be left off to just search the root.
c{3707} – Secondary sub category. Varies depending on main cat, for Games this usually includes various game generes, Accessories, and Consoles. In this case, PS3 Accessories.
+ – Trailing “+” – in browsers, this is added automatically if left out, and best to keep it there. It’s not required, though coders will need to enable the CURLOPT_FOLLOWLOCATION flag if it’s not used.

Additional Extras:
&ob= – Additional option for search result ordering. 0 = “Best Selling” (or alternatively leave the query out and it defaults to this). 1 = A-Z (best option if searching by a full title – ie. it puts all re-release / limited edition results later on), 2 = Z-A, 3 = Price High to Low, 4 = Price Low to High, 5 = Customer Rating, 6 = Release Date,
& – Inserting an additional ampersand (&) proceeded by a blank space within the queries section (ie. a blank query) results in a bug removing most of the header and sidebar, consequently saving over 10,000 characters in the HTML (approx. 10% of the entire file). Useful for cURLing pages, then. Eg: &searchfilters=s{XCOM:+Enemy+Unknown}+c{362}+c{10065}+ Note that the exact placement of the blank query may need to be adjusted on how many other queries you have present.

General URL Info:

A standard URL as available for a listing =

Made up of root / primary category / sub category 1 / sub category 2 / item sku / item title / page type.

However, a number of these can be ignored / blanked out, though the structure can’t actually be changed / removed altogether.

The name can be blanked (-), as can sub-category 2 (it is by default 4- when no sub-sub cat is available). Eg.

The primary sub category can actually be any sub category of the main category, the SKU will still bring up the right data.Eg.

And infact, the main category can be any category, so long as subcat1 is a correct subcat of it. There’s some exceptions to this (/DVD/DVD/ only brings up DVD results) but in general, this URL will work for any SKU: (blank query added to create branding removal detailed above) . Bear in mind however that some SKUs (music items specifically) will redirect / update the URL as they use a slightly differing URL structure, though hopefully CURLOPT_FOLLOWLOCATION will solve this as mentioned earlier.

Search Result:
Data to parse shows as follows (ymmv, if they change the code as often as eBay do):

17 New  from  £23.99  FREE delivery

Available  used  from  £19.99

Root Categories:

34 – Music
57 – DVD
91 – Books
321 – Electronics
362 – (Video / Computer) Games
363 – Sports & Outdoors
397 – Mobile
420 – Computing
439 – Gifts & Gadgets
470 – Clothing
600 – Blu-ray
2317 – Toys
4854 – Baby
4855 – Office

Primary Sub Categories:

362 – (Video / Computer) Games

10005 – Game Boy Advance
10006 – Gamecube
10009 – PC
10010 – Sony PS2
10018 – Xbox
10047 – Nintendo DSi & DS (inc. 3DS)
10041 – Sony PSP (inc. Vita)
10049 – Xbox 360
10065 – Sony PS3
10066 – Nintendo Wii (inc. Wii U)

Secondary Sub Categories:

362 – (Video / Computer) Games
10065 – Sony PS3
3707 – Accessories
4658 – Consoles

362 – (Video / Computer) Games
10010 – Sony PS2
4174 – Accessories
4661 – Consoles

362 – (Video / Computer) Games
10047 – Nintendo DSi & DS (inc. 3DS)
3985 – Accessories
4659 – Consoles

362 – (Video / Computer) Games
10041 – Sony PSP (inc. Vita)
4155 – Accessories
4660 – Consoles

362 – (Video / Computer) Games
10049 – Xbox 360
3798 – Accessories
4656 – Consoles

362 – (Video / Computer) Games
10065 – Sony PS3
3707 – Accessories
4658 – Consoles

362 – (Video / Computer) Games
10066 – Nintendo Wii (inc. Wii U)
3892 – Accessories
4657 – Consoles


Popped in to a few GAME stores today to buy stuff. Even though they’re in dire financial straits, they still have staff questioning whether they’re allowed to sell multiple copies of one title to someone, whilst others are putting multi-buys through the til in multiple transactions to avoid upper management noticing and becoming annoyed at the extra sale/s.

Geez, GAME, maybe if you started selling multiple copies to everyone you wouldn’t all be about to loose your jobs. Still, not that it really matters now, it’s probably too late already. Either way, most of their stock seems to be vanishing fast, and we all know they ain’t getting anything new in… Shame, really. If any managers in their dispatch centre read this, you can come work for me. You always were the best pick/packers I ever had the pleasure of purchasing from 🙂 .

GAME Group – oh dear.

Depending on who you believe, Game Group – comprising GAME, GameStation, and until some Point larer today, Gameplay, are in big trouble. And that means you, likely Game customer, are too.

See, their credit rating’s shocking (and you dont even wanna see their share price), and supposedly there’s no cash to pay for anything up front. Which means supplier after supplier is refusing to hand over stock of the latet titles. Which brings me to the point of this post.

Here’s what some suits at Game decided on hearing EA wouldn’t let them sell Mass Effect 3, emphasis mine:

“We know [pre-order customers] will be disappointed regarding Mass Effect in particular, and in recognition of this, we will be contacting our Mass Effect pre-order customers and as a gesture of goodwill we will be offering them £5 of reward card/elite card credit.”

If that’s not clear enough, i’ll spell it out.

You give Game X pounds (in this case £5) to pre order a title.
For whatever reason, Game dont supply the title.
Game keep your £5. End of. I’d love to find the T&Cs for that.

Oh and, because you might complain and cause bad press, out of the goodness of their hearts and supposedly not something theyre legally required to do, they’ll give you £5 credit with them. Credit which we already know isnt in the best of shapes.

Yes, Game customers, you just all became Game creditors.

So thats one reason i’d be staying away from pre orders with them, or anyone for that matter.

Up next, pics of the new office 🙂