This is Apple's 'Zombie Check' Tool Used to Reduce iPhone Repair Fraud

Discussion in 'iOS Blog Discussion' started by MacRumors, Oct 17, 2018.

  1. MacRumors macrumors bot


    Apr 12, 2001

    Last week, The Information's Wayne Ma reported about a sophisticated fraud scheme in which organized thieves would buy or steal iPhones, remove valuable components like the processor or logic board, swap in fake components, and return the purposefully-broken iPhones to receive replacements they could resell.

    iPhone Serial Number Reader

    Apple became aware of the increasing fraud in 2013 and, in the years since, it has managed to "dramatically reduce" the rate of iPhone-related repair fraud in its retail stores, particularly in China, according to the report.

    One of Apple's countermeasures was to develop diagnostic software that its retail employees could use to quickly detect fake parts in iPhones, the report said. To evade this tactic, however, many fraudsters started to intentionally disable the iPhones so they couldn't be turned on and subjected to diagnostics.

    Fraudsters even went as far as obtaining Apple customer records, including serial numbers, for iPhones that had already been sold in China. In some cases, the incorrect serial numbers would be etched on the back of the iPhones.

    To combat the use of stolen serial numbers, The Information reported that Apple came up with a screening method known as "Zombie Check" internally that tested whether serial numbers for the broken iPhones held for inspection were also associated with iPhones still using Apple's online services like iCloud.

    According to an internal Apple document obtained by MacRumors, the tool was initially limited to China, but Apple began rolling it out to Apple Authorized Service Providers around the world in February 2018.

    The aptly-named Serial Number Reader is a simple tool with a Lightning connector on one end and USB-A on the other. It is used to validate the serial number of an iPhone 6 or newer that will not power on by retrieving it directly from the logic board, although a source said it doesn't always work.

    To use the tool, a technician connects the end with the Lightning cable to the iPhone and the end with the USB cable to a Mac running macOS 10.8.5 or later. Then, the technician launches the companion Serial Number Reader app on the Mac and the iPhone's serial number should appear in most cases.


    The tool can retrieve serial numbers from iPhones that have been damaged in a variety of ways, including units with a non-functional display. Liquid damage is also no obstacle, so long as the liquid is no longer leaking out of the device.

    Apple's internal document states that "serial number validation ensures warranty and service eligibility associated with a serialized device is appropriately applied." The document adds that "validation ensures Apple only offers warranty service on genuine Apple products," thwarting fraudsters.

    Apple's efforts appear to be working. Apple's annual Form 10-K indicates that, in 2017, Apple's warranty expenses decreased to $4.32 billion from $4.66 billion a year earlier. The serial number tool, it would appear, is quite effective.

    Article Link: This is Apple's 'Zombie Check' Tool Used to Reduce iPhone Repair Fraud
  2. estabya macrumors 6502


    Jun 28, 2014
    LMAO it uses USB-A. They can’t even get to their own USB-C future.
  3. MacManiac1 macrumors regular


    Sep 7, 2017
    They used this on my dead iPhone 8 last week at the local Apple Store. First time I saw it.

    My iPhone 8 was totally dead. The guy used this and in a few minutes he told me my iPhone was “fried” and they gave me a replacement iPhone right on the spot. Other than the time to download my backup and reset a bunch of preferences, it was pretty seamless.
  4. Canyonero macrumors member

    Apr 2, 2012
    Does anyone at Apple ever wonder if being so embedded in China is the way forward? It’s literally the place where they have to bend over backward for everything, including this. What if everyone just said no, enough. Play by the rules and until you do, we are not doing business with you. I know it’s too late for that now but did no one really think of this? Everyone just thought we are going to smooth sail to China, have them do our stuff for cheap and that’s it, they won’t try to benefit?
  5. iMerik macrumors 6502a

    May 3, 2011
    Upper Midwest
    Unfortunately, the people testing probably have piles of Apple adapters required to do their jobs, so no worries. :D
  6. UKMrMacMan macrumors newbie


    Jun 1, 2016
    So will it work with the new disabling of the Lightening port after an hour?
  7. Hustler1337 macrumors 68000


    Dec 23, 2010
    London, UK
    Was your iPhone in warranty?
  8. MrJeffreyGee macrumors regular


    Apr 20, 2009
    The fact that Apple needs to do this speaks to a larger issue. A "Resource-based Economy" as promoted by Jacque Fresco would be better.
  9. justperry macrumors G3


    Aug 10, 2007
    In the core of a black hole.
    The tool is both hardware and Software, there might be a bypass built into the software, hardware or both, but on the other hand it would be foolish to do so, if one gets stolen and taken to some genius hackers they could potentially break Apple's security.
  10. laurim macrumors 68000


    Sep 19, 2003
    Minnesota USA
    Wonder if this is how my iPhone X serial number ended up on an iPhone in China. I found out when I went to check on my upgrade program status and was told I wasn’t in the program. An Apple CS manager helped me sort it all out but I had to prove I owned the right phone. Thankfully, I had the box with the serial number label on it and she was able to get my receipt from the Apple store. Otherwise, I would have lost my Apple care and status to upgrade to the XS.
  11. alleggerita macrumors 6502


    Dec 19, 2011
    “Decreased to $4.32 billion from $4.66 billion” is considered effective? Seriously?
  12. PBG4 Dude macrumors 68030

    PBG4 Dude

    Jul 6, 2007
    Since when is saving $340 million dollars not a big deal?
  13. cljmac macrumors newbie

    Jul 9, 2002
    --- Post Merged, Oct 17, 2018 ---
    This tool has been around since Apple stopped having the serial number on the back of the phone. It’s great for finding the serial number when the screen is dead or the phone won’t start.
  14. BehemothManiac macrumors newbie

    Oct 10, 2018
    Wonder if the warranty expenses went down because of the new tool or just because Apple Support now sucks and will refuse to do anything with the first opportunity.
  15. ric275 macrumors member


    Dec 4, 2011
    This Serial Number Reader has been used by Apple for a good few years now, it received a substantial software-based upgrade in both operation and functionality earlier this year. I think the article is a bit confused, the software screenshots are from the older software.
  16. alleggerita macrumors 6502


    Dec 19, 2011
    $340 million seems a lot in isolation, but when compared to a sum in billions that’s like a 7.3% reduction. It doesn’t really show how effective it is. This 7.3% reduction may just be the fact that warranty claims reduced due to increased reliability of the new phones. If it’s in the region of a 15% or more reduction, it will be more believable that it’s this device being effective.
  17. KnighsTalker macrumors regular


    Dec 23, 2009
    In the Web
    Huh? I'll take 10 percent of that. After taxes, I should have right around $20 million. I could live nicely on that and still leave a hefty trust fund for my son!
  18. garoto macrumors member

    Sep 13, 2010
    How can we attribute all the savings to that tool? Can it be that maybe fewer claims were made? Or that year over year, all claims made aren’t worth the same $, or that iPhones are more reliable?

    I’m sure the tool helped, but all $340 million attributed to it? I guess possibly if year over year warranty claims kept increasing as more and more iPhones were sold, and since the tool was released, it was decreased.
  19. simplynando macrumors 6502


    Aug 15, 2016
    Earlier this year I got my iPhone X replaced by Asurion when it was stolen. When the phone arrived, it powered on, got halfway through setup and then shut off never to turn on again. I took it into Apple that same night (luckily there was an appointment a few hours out) and they tried to use this tool on it but it wouldn't work at all. They couldn't get it to power on and the tool couldn't read the serial number so they weren't able to service my phone. Asurion had to replace my replacement. Lol.
  20. alexksj macrumors newbie

    Nov 25, 2014
    Considering that at the same time Apple increased their sales by 6% (215 to 229 bil $), this gives you an effective decrease of 13% of warranty costs in proportion to sales.

  21. riverfreak macrumors 65816


    Jan 10, 2005
    Thonglor, Bangkok
    Amazing how much work people will go to to avoid having to work.
  22. rawweb macrumors 6502a


    Aug 7, 2015
    First reading the headline, mind drifted to wondering if this zombie tool was used to check if 4/5 year old “new” MacMini/MacPro’s were still alive in the apple store.
  23. kmm1482 macrumors newbie

    May 16, 2012
    I would have LOVED this thing when I worked at the Apple store!!!!
  24. JPSaltzman macrumors regular


    Jun 5, 2011
    Wow, I haven't seen an Apple cord that long since I used the Apple Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter to connect to my 30" Apple Cinema monitor!
  25. Douglas B macrumors regular

    Douglas B

    Feb 25, 2010
    Maybe this reduction coincides with the removal of the most used moving component of the iPhone, the clickable home button.

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28 October 17, 2018