Buyers beware of counterfeit Leupold rifle scopes

An employee at a local sporting goods store told us about a customer that recently got too good of a deal on a Leupold rifle scope at a gun show.

The scope was counterfeit. The seller was off to the next bazaar and a fresh crop of pigeons, and the buyer had no recourse. Leupold has no obligation to replace a counterfeit scope, nor does a retailer.

If you're lucky, your ersatz Leupold is serviceable. Even fake Rolex wristwatches keep time for a while, but would you trust such a scope on a prized draw hunt that you've entered for two decades? I wouldn't.

Most counterfeit Leupolds are of Chinese origin and are priced sufficiently below manufacturer's suggested retail price on many websites to be irresistible. They're cheap enough to draw you in, but not so cheap to scare you away. Of course, you don't know it's counterfeit until you've paid for the item and have it in hand.

On, Leupold issues a warning against purchasing Leupold-labeled optics from,,, and many others. The most commonly counterfeited products, according to Leupold, mimic Mark 4 rifle scopes, VX-III rifle scopes, Prismatic rifle scopes, CQ/T rifle scopes, LCO sights and Deltapoint Pro sights.

The products are illegally imported from the People's Republic of China, which is a profligate violator of patent and trademark rights.

Leupold's warning says, "These fake products bear many of the trademarks and trade dress of current Leupold & Stevens rifle scopes, and are sometimes difficult to distinguish externally from authentic Leupold products."

Regrettably, owners learn the truth when they send faulty products to Leupold for warranty service. Leupold is famous for its "Full Lifetime Guarantee," but it will not service counterfeit products. A counterfeit experience can sour a victimized buyer on the company, a phenomenon to which Leupold is sensitive.

All Leupold rifle scopes bear an individual serial number that's engraved on the bottom of the turret. Counterfeit scopes often use fake serial numbers, all identical serial numbers, or incorrect numbering convention.

The date code is a quick way to assure authenticity. Since 1974, every Leupold scope includes a letter in the serial number as a date-code. Scopes with a letter at the beginning of the serial number were produced between 1974 and 1992. You are unlikely to encounter counterfeits from this era because those scopes are relatively inexpensive.

Scopes with a letter at the end of the serial number were produced after 1992.

Since 2014, the serial suffix contains two letters, always beginning with A. "AA" is 2014, "AB" is 2015, and so on.

Leupold does not use the letters I, O, and Q in its serial numbers because they are easily mistaken for 1, 0, and 0. If a scope has these letters in a serial number, it's fake. If it does not contain a letter at the end, it's fake.

Leupold scopes bear distinctive physical characteristics. The gold ring near the end of the objective bell is a well-known trademark. It's an actual metal ring, not a decal. Contemporary models have black engraving within the gold ring that designates the model number, focal range and Leupold name.

Inlaid on the left side of the turret is a gold logo signet. Old models are engraved with LEUPOLD.

Leupold rifle scopes are all designed, machined, and assembled in Beaverton, Ore. The company has no other other rifle scope manufacturing facilities or offices anywhere else. A Leupold rifle scope originating in Asia is almost certainly a counterfeit.

Additionally, a new scope will be in a cellophane-wrapped box. Inspection requires breaking the seal, which sellers usually do not permit. Authorized dealers have samples on display for inspection. From any other source you buy on faith.

If possible, write down the serial number and call 1-800-LEUPOLD. The company can usually confirm a scope's authenticity by its serial number.

If you have been duped, you can request a chargeback from your credit card. If you used PayPal, you can file a dispute. Both are major hassles.

Even as wary as I am, I recently suspected that I was duped when I bought a fine pre-owned rifle that wore a Leupold VX-3i. The scope alone is worth nearly what I paid for the entire package, but I was also suspicious about the crooked logo signet, a departure from Leupold's customary meticulous attention to detail.

Thankfully, Leupold immediately verified that the scope is authentic and was made in 2018. The representative asked a lot of questions about any other reasons why I suspected it might be fake.

Sometimes, of course, a great deal is just that.

Sports on 12/30/2018