US Customs seized $62.6 million worth of fake AirPods and headphones since October

The popularity of Apple's AirPods seems to have caused a boom in counterfeit audio gear.

US Customs and Border Protection

In the nine months to July, US customs officials seized $62.2 million worth of fake AirPods and other counterfeit wireless headphones, according to data obtained by The Information. Around 360,000 units were confiscated during that timeframe. The agency said seizures of counterfeit wireless headphones have increased by 50 percent over the past five years “as products such as Apple AirPods gained popularity.”

US Customs and Border Protection impounded 295,000 sets of counterfeit headphones worth $61.7 million during the government's previous fiscal year (which starts in October), so it seems there are more phony headphones flooding into the US market than ever. The value of fake headphones that agents seized in 2019 was comparatively minuscule at $3.3 million.

These figures are likely just a drop in the ocean compared with the number of fakes that sneak past borders. It's nearly impossible to know the exact figures, but estimates made by the US Chamber of Commerce in 2016 suggest officials seize just 2.5 percent of counterfeit goods worldwide.

Given that estimate, The Information suggests counterfeit AirPods could cost Apple billions in lost sales in the US this year alone, assuming that buyers would otherwise scoop up genuine models. Customs agents have seized phony AirPods on at least a dozen occasions across the US in recent years. The products confiscated in four of those seizures would have been worth around $13 million were they genuine Apple products, officials said.

There are, of course, other brands that counterfeiters are copying, and it's not clear what percentage of fake headphones that customs agents confiscate are AirPods knockoffs. Counterfeit headphones aren't exactly new, but having hard numbers on seizures highlight just how pervasive they are. Then again, when even customs agents believe a legitimate Apple competitor's true wireless earbuds are phony AirPods, the extent of the problem might not be too clear after all.

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