The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Counterfeit Gun Parts

Deals Too Good to be True

Photos by Rob Curtis | Opening photo courtesy M&R Glasgow

“Psst … Hey buddy, wanna buy a scope?”

Retail fraud in the firearms accessories sector is rampant, with respect for trademarks and patents seemingly nonexistent among product counterfeiters. Shady sellers want only to tap into customers’ wallets; shady “customers” cut into retailers’ bottom line by committing return fraud.

To listen to industry professionals, the worst scammers are akin to the cliché guys on the street who open a trench coat and flash a dozen “Fool-ex” knockoffs of Rolex watches. Only it’s fake optics, slings, AR components, and more being passed off as the real thing.

The issue is multifaceted. First, there’s the ability and willingness of many production sources, mostly in China, to create knockoffs. This readiness to create counterfeits, though, is bolstered by unscrupulous people here in America willing to knowingly trade in them.

While United States Customs officials and other protection agencies catch millions of fakes destined for American markets, enough slip through to create genuine concern.

We talked with representatives from three major manufacturers about how counterfeits are affecting them and what they recommend for consumers wanting assurances they’re getting authentic goods.

Magpul
Duane Liptak, Jr., is Magpul’s director of product management and marketing. He says counterfeiting of Magpul’s products is pervasive.

“We work closely with customs, and we have a specific legal entity we deal with to combat these issues. We have a very aggressive litigation posture when it comes to counterfeits. It damages the brand revenues. If someone buys a counterfeit product, believing it to be real, then they’re not buying our product. The other side is damage to the brand reputation, because someone may think they’ve bought a genuine Magpul product, and then, when it doesn’t perform adequately, it tarnishes the brand’s reputation.”

Counterfeiters make some convincing copies of Magpul’s popular slings and sights. At first glance, the fakes look just like the real thing. But differences you might not see include the use of inferior polymer materials that may fail unexpectedly.

Counterfeiters make some convincing copies of Magpul’s popular slings and sights. At first glance, the fakes look just like the real thing. But differences you might not see include the use of inferior polymer materials that may fail unexpectedly. The fake is the one on the right.

Liptak explained there actually was a time when Magpul licensed some cheaper components for the airsoft market, intended to make Magpul-branded pieces available for use on airsoft guns at lower prices. These licensed Chinese clones weren’t supposed to create confusion about their lower quality compared to components made for actual combat or law enforcement. But they did.

“We shut that deal down a few years ago. It was potentially confusing in that something from overseas that was marked MAGPUL was actually legitimate,” Liptak said. Now, he added, people are counterfeiting the former PTS products. All real Magpul products are made domestically. This makes it easier for U.S. Customs to stop anything coming into the country.

The counterfeit is the one on the right.

The counterfeit is the one on the right.

“An even larger issue, and a safety issue, and something we’ve raised in litigation is that someone may be putting these counterfeit products on a firearm they’re trusting their life to — whether it’s a law enforcement or military firearm or a civilian firearm trusted to defend hearth and home. It’s not going to perform to the same standard as the Magpul product they thought they were getting. Not good,” he declared.

Liptak says most Magpul knockoffs are sold online. Ebay is a common venue. Even Amazon sometimes sells counterfeits. Liptak advises to always check where an item ships from and who’s selling it. Beware some of the purported consumer reviews on online retail sites. Many can be fake fluff.

The counterfeit is the one on the right.

The counterfeit is the one on the right.

The most common Magpul knockoffs are the MBUS (Magpul Back-Up Sight) sights and UBR (Utility/Battle Rifle) collapsible buttstocks; the stocks are fairly high dollar, retailing around $265. The MBUS Pro sights were among the most common early fakes, but Liptak said it was easy to spot knockoffs because counterfeiters ripped off the sight based on magazine images and didn’t realize the back of the sight had a ribbed structure to cut weight. Slings are also common fakes. Knockoff Angled Fore Grips (AFGs) are “all day long” headaches. “There are a lot of AFG copies out there that are basically molded out of Pringles lids,” Liptak said.

The counterfeit is the one on the right.

The counterfeit is the one on the right.

“We spend an astronomical amount trying to combat counterfeiting,” Liptak said. “But if you go over to China and stop somebody manufacturing knockoffs, somebody else pops up the next week. So, you play ‘whack a mole’ over there, and you continue to work with customs, which has been the most effective. They’ve got our brand book, know what our packaging looks like and have tips on how to identify fakes. By the way, any firearms component coming into this country marked ‘Magpul’ is fake. Still, some find a way to hide the counterfeits among other goods in sea containers.”

Magpul’s flagship buttstock, the UBR, has been ripped off pretty regularly. This fake is larger than the real thing and is made with cheap metals that crack and disintegrate under hard use. Notice the missing endplate on the fake.

Magpul’s flagship buttstock, the UBR, has been ripped off pretty regularly. This fake is larger than the real thing and is made with cheap metals that crack and disintegrate under hard use. Notice the missing endplate on the fake (seen right).

The National Retail Federation’s Return Fraud Survey says criminals often take advantage of retailers with relaxed return policies. The survey revealed that more than 90 percent of retailers experienced return fraud, costing from $9.1 to $15.9 billion annually.

The counterfeit is the one on the right.

The counterfeit is the one on the right.

Liptak said fake magazines and sights are among the most common products scammers try to return.

“It’s smaller scale because it isn’t someone who’s pumping out fakes and trying to get them into the market, but someone being so petty as to try to make a couple bucks by buying counterfeits and then returning them as the real thing. I don’t know, something that makes you lose faith in humanity,” Liptak said.

“It’s a lovely world, isn’t it?” he said with exasperation.

Liptak’s Tips
> Assess quality. Look at fit and trim, excessive flash from molding, textures that don’t look or feel right — some cheap polypropylenes feel waxy; rusting pins or springs usually indicate fakes.
> Buy through reputable retailers and distribution channels such as Brownells, Midway, DSG Arms, Cabela’s, etc. If counterfeits somehow made it into their supply chain, they’ll usually make it right for you. Magpul’s customer service technicians will assist consumers in determining if something is fake.
> Beware prices too good to be true. Some crooks, though, put fakes on eBay at MSRP or minimum advertised price so it looks like a deal.

Aimpoint
John Enloe is Aimpoint’s manager of marketing and technical support. An 11-year veteran of the company, many fakes come across his desk, some sent in for warranty work.

“They’re sold all over the internet and at gun shows. It’s startling because there have been times when professionals, people who’ve been overseas in combat, send sights to repair after they’ve used them for a couple weeks, reporting the sight “crapped out.”

Aimpoint military equipment models are the most frequent knockoffs. He said most Aimpoint knockoffs are airsoft toys. The airsoft community likes to call them “military simulators,” Enloe said. Many fakes are products for which Aimpoint has substantial military contracts. These include the COMPM4 optic, the 3X magnifier, and the entire line of micro series optics, mainly because of the popularity with the Special Operations community.

“The companies manufacturing these things are in direct infringement. They’ve got our logos on the products. They’re mainly building them for airsoft toys, and less scrupulous people are importing them into the country, and then trying to pass them off as the real thing to defraud people.” Enloe sees rampant problems at gun shows.

“I’ve seen tables of this stuff. I hang around, and I listen to them. These guys are the scam artists. They’re the ones reading the customer in front of them. If that customer is halfway savvy, they sellers will come up with something like, ‘Well, it’s made by the same company that makes the optics for the Chinese military,’ which is a total falsehood,” Enloe said.

“People will tell buyers that they’re designed to withstand recoil. No, they’re not! Some interior components have been found to be held in place with electrical tape. They’re 100-percent toys. If they have a more naïve customer asking if the optic is a genuine Aimpoint, the seller will say, ‘Well, it’s got Aimpoint on it’ instead of stating, ‘Yes, it’s a real Aimpoint,’” he added.

Enloe says he sees both good and lousy fakes. Some of the best knockoffs have true-to-form exteriors, but Enloe says once you get past the veneer everything changes inside.

“There’s been no testing done. They’re not waterproof, not shockproof, they’re not designed for use on a weapon producing recoil. They were designed to be used on electric, spring-powered, 6mm plastic BB guns.

“If you’re a weekend plinker, and you’ve got a knockoff flashlight that goes down, it might not kill you. But, with an optic, we now don’t know where the round is going. It may retain zero through the first few shots, but later rounds could be heading into the next county,” Enloe said.

Enloe said most buyers of optics and gun components know knockoffs are a problem. “It’s usually your first- or second-time buyer who may not be aware. I get guys who call me up and say, ‘Well, I’m only out a couple hundred dollars, but there are others who call and say, ‘Man, I spent $800 for this.’” A few minutes of due diligence can prevent hours of headaches and a big dent in your wallet.

Aimpoint also works closely with U.S. Customs. “It’s often more effective to work it from this side, trying to seize products before they arrive in the country,” Enloe said.

Counterfeit retailers can be brazen. Enloe tells of being tipped off about someone advertising Aimpoint products on his website — products that were complete fakes. A banner encouraged visits to his booth at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas. “We visited him, with Vegas metro police and papers, serving him on the spot,” Enloe said.

“Every now and then you get lucky, but when you cut the head off one snake, there’s always another one. It’s everywhere,” he said.

Enloe says Aimpoint sees some examples of customers attempting retail return fraud, but it’s not a daily occurrence. He believes fraud is easier to perpetrate at reputable brick-and-mortar stores, where petty crooks can buy a legit product, bring it to the vehicle and swap a counterfeit in its place. They then return it with a line that could go something like, “My wife is going to kill me if I buy this.”

“Many counter personnel at stores aren’t well-trained to spot a fake,” Enloe said, adding he’s developed protocols to help with loss prevention at various retailers.

Enloe’s Tips
> Research the internet to learn how to spot fakes.
> Call Enloe at (703) 263-9795. Aimpoint runs serial number checks on the spot to help determine genuine products. Beware the following serial numbers: CompM2 (also known as the M68/CCO when used by U.S. forces): M2 10338 #240944;  CompM4: 1400310, 0621168, 1370993.
> Be an informed consumer. Know authentic product features, such as lens colors, turret height, logo design and placement, whether a component has a spring or not, etc.
> Check out: http://us.aimpoint.com/support/counterfeitcopies/the-16-rules/.

Trijicon
Brad Romines, Trijicon’s export compliance manager, says his company has also seen a noticeable uptick in counterfeits with optics and riflescopes the past few years. They’re even finding counterfeiters selling directly at U.S. tradeshows, including SHOT Show and a major consumer show, the Great American Outdoor Show. Trijicon knockoffs are being sold throughout the European Union, the United States, and even the Middle East, he said. China is almost always the country of origin.

Unlike Magpul and Aimpoint, Trijicon isn’t pointing squarely at fakes derived from the airsoft market.

“We treat the airsoft market differently. The ones we’re concerned about and that we put our energy behind are all of the other counterfeiters,” Romines said.

The makers of this fake Trijicon ACOG, left, didn’t even bother to use magnifying lenses. It’s a 1x. Also, notice the lack of lens coating on the fake optic.

The makers of this fake Trijicon ACOG, left, didn’t even bother to use magnifying lenses. It’s a 1x. Also, notice the lack of lens coating on the fake optic (seen right).

The most common Trijicon knockoffs include the ACOG (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight), RMR (Ruggedized Miniature Reflex), and, recently, the MRO (Miniature Rifle Optic) sights.

“The MRO hasn’t been out that long, and it just goes to show how quickly counterfeiters are reacting to new products,” Romines said.

The company uses other distinct marks in its products, but Romines said they’re careful in how that information is communicated so they don’t assist counterfeiters.

Romines says agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Department of Homeland Security routinely contact Trijicon with suspected illegal imports.

Not all fakes are as easy to recognize as this fake Trijicon ACOG. Notice the crooked mounting plate, lack of markings, and lack of dummy cord on the elevation turret. The counterfeit is the one on the right.

Not all fakes are as easy to recognize as this fake Trijicon ACOG. Notice the crooked mounting plate, lack of markings, and lack of dummy cord on the elevation turret. The counterfeit is the one on the right.

“We assist them in identifying and confirming counterfeits by comparing key marks between a real Trijicon product and the fake ones. It is not always known if these government agencies are always able to shut down the illegal imports, but we’ve been told the information we provide is extremely helpful in building their case against the counterfeiter,” he said.

Trijicon doesn’t like breaking the news to someone that they’ve bought a knockoff. The issue usually arises when someone thinks they have a legitimate Trijicon product and send it for repair when it malfunctions.

Romines said the products sometimes look good, but just don’t hold up because the materials are cheaper, and the product isn’t well made. “There’s a reason why Trijicon has such a strong reputation with our warranty, and that’s due to the robustness behind our materials and construction,” he said.

Notice the difference in windage adjustment knobs? If you pick up the fake ACOG (right) you’d notice it’s a lot lighter than the real thing. It’s missing lenses, and it’s made from cheap pot metal.

Notice the difference in windage adjustment knobs? If you pick up the fake ACOG (right) you’d notice it’s a lot lighter than the real thing. It’s missing lenses, and it’s made from cheap pot metal.

If there’s any silver lining in this situation, it’s that companies are learning to share information.

“A few of the optics manufacturers have really come together to look out for one another,” Romines said. “For instance, several optics companies, including Trijicon, recently met at the 2017 SHOT Show so we could discuss this very topic and help each other combat counterfeiters. Even though we’re competitors, it’s been great to work together to protect our great brands.”

Romines’ Tips
> Fake ACOGs often have ACOG etched on the housing; the real deal has it embossed or raised on the main housing.
> See www.trijicon.com/na_en/support/product_authenticity.php.
> Buy from Trijicon authorized dealers. Beware second-hand or products from non-authorized dealers. If prices seem a little too good or products don’t look quite right, walk away and see an authorized dealer.

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