Spend enough time on the internet and you’ll be forced to come across a horror story or two about an unfortunate soul tricked into spending hundreds of dollars on a fake or fake phone. It may look like a brand new Samsung Galaxy S9 from the outside, but it’s not even close on the inside, with a cheap camera, outdated processor, and other cheaper components instead of the real thing.
How to spot a fake phone
Counterfeit Samsung’s premium products are big business in China. According to AnTuTu’s 2017 Smartphone Report, Samsung smartphones accounted for more than 36% of the counterfeit market last year, well surpassing the iPhone’s 7.7% and Huawei’s 3.4%. The European Galaxy S7 Edge was by far the most fake phone on the list. The company’s 2017 report found that 2.64% of the 17,424,726 verified phones used for performance testing were knockoffs. 460,000 confirmed falsehoods are based on this single sample. Since there are over a billion smartphones on the market, that translates into millions of imitations.
Buying a new phone from a reputable retailer is your safest bet, but it’s not always possible. The booming market for used, refurbished and cheaper phones is a hotbed of potential products and knockoffs. If you want to avoid wasting your money on a fake phone, here’s our easy guide to help you verify that your new phone is genuine.
Symptoms to look out for: Poor quality exterior
The most obvious place to spot a fake phone is in the exterior design; buttons in the wrong place, bezels that don’t look quite right, or a camera body that isn’t aligned when it should. Unfortunately, well-executed questionable devices aren’t that easy to spot from the outside, they only become obvious once you use them.
If you are dealing with a private seller, the first port of call is to make sure the device actually turns on. Even if you’re not there in person, the salesperson should be able to provide images with the screen, and possibly even send you a short video or GIF of them flipping through the UI. Never be afraid to ask for a closer look at the screen, even if it’s just for cracks and scratches.
Knockoff software is usually a dead giveaway, especially if the UI or app icons don’t match the official theme of the device. You can get to know a new device just by watching videos from YouTube reviews. Keep an eye out for launchers and icons, missing features or menus, or non-standard pre-installed apps.
To the untrained eye, it’s not easy to spot this fake Galaxy S9 on a casual glance. It’s the one on the right, by the way.
Performance is also important here, and this is the main point that victims notice after purchase. Counterfeit handsets often include cheaper processors, which stutter and lag in their daily use. Some apps and switches probably won’t work, as the OS is only shallow, so make sure you explore the OS and a few apps well to make sure everything is working fine. If you can’t do it in person, you can always request video proof. This is usually a good tip for buying used or refurbished phones anyway – it’s useful for detecting if aging devices have battery or processor issues.
As always, be sure to follow the general purchasing rules for used products. Don’t agree to pay outside of official platforms where you won’t be protected, meet in mutually agreeable places, and avoid requests for money on a first date. Unofficial Pushy sellers who won’t answer detailed questions are, as always, an important warning sign too.
If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Test the phone
Although this is not always possible, we strongly recommend that you check used and refurbished cell phones before handing over large sums of money. This way, you can not only check the physical condition of the handset, but also perform some simple tests to make sure that it is not a fake phone inside either.
Check that the material matches
A fake phone will sneak up on cheaper hardware alternatives to make a profit. The most common scams involve using low-quality cameras, omitting NFC or fingerprint components, and even running homebrew software on cheaper processors. Fortunately, it is very easy to find data sheets from handset manufacturers online to check the phone in your hands.
First, make sure all the hardware is working. Activate or deactivate Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, NFC and other functions. Maybe even connect to another device or network. Checking which fingerprint scanner options are actually in the security settings menu isn’t a bad idea either, even if the vendor doesn’t want you to lock the phone with your print before you buy.
Display resolution, UI themes, and processing hardware are the best ways to check for counterfeit hardware.
Don’t forget to test the cameras either. Make sure the front and rear cameras are working and have all of the features promised with the device, like a wide angle lens or a telephoto lens. The functionality and layout of a fake camera is always different from official software. Finally, take a photo and check the megapixel count. You can do this by tapping the info button in the default gallery app or Google Photos. A clearly inferior camera module will be fairly easy to spot based on the photos it takes, even when viewed on the phone.
As we mentioned, a counterfeit processor is a major red flag and will ruin your experience with your new phone, so it’s definitely worth comparing the chip in the phone against the official spec sheet.
You don’t need to disassemble the phone to do it, you just need to quickly install CPU-Z from the Play Store. CPU-Z will give you insight into the handling of keys and low-level software components that run inside the phone, making it virtually impossible to spoof.
Once installed, you can review CPU and GPU hardware details on the opening page. If you’re not really into this tech stuff, the Device tab will give you the name of the processor chip under Hardware, which you can just check against the datasheet. You’ll also find the phone’s RAM amount and display resolution on this page, which again will instantly signal any knock-offs. You can also install AIDA64 to cross-reference with some details.
DOWNLOAD CPU-Z FROM GOOGLE PLAY
DOWNLOAD AIDA64 FROM GOOGLE PLAY
Compare IMEI Number
All of the above will help you spot a cheap fake phone, but it won’t help against stolen or blacklisted products. To do this, you will need to verify the International Mobile Equipment Identification Number (IMEI) against any claims made by your seller.
Each phone’s cellular modem is assigned a unique 15-digit IMEI number. It is registered against the phone’s brand and model number, used to register and lock devices on specific networks, and can also be blacklisted to block phones or SIM cards if they are stolen.
A phone’s IMEI can tell you the associated model, network compatibility, and whether the phone has been stolen.
You can find a phone’s IMEI number in the About Phone section of the Android Settings menu. Alternatively, just type # # 06 # into the phone’s dialer and a box will appear with the number. The IMEI is also included in the phone box, making it a snap to verify if your prospective purchase came in the original packaging. Alternatively, the number on the website imei.info will give you a breakdown of the handset status.
The IMEI number is also very useful to check if the phone is locked to a specific network. If you are promised an unlocked phone, you certainly don’t want to know it’s locked when you insert your SIM card. Sometimes salespeople don’t verify this information, others use the allure of an unlocked phone to attract unsuspecting customers. .
Have you been the victim of a scam? And now?
It isn’t always possible to verify all of this with online sellers, but if you end up with a failed handset, that’s not the end of the road. Legal protections vary depending on your country of residence and prosecution of fraudulent sellers is often a lost cause, but your payment method may offer some level of protection.
Cash is best avoided, both due to the lack of a paper trail and the inability to collect payment, even if you have received a receipt. In this regard, credit cards are better than debit cards, charge cards, or wire transfers, as your bank can usually dispute a transaction for a chargeback. Always check the terms and conditions of your specific bank. When purchasing online, PayPal offers a buyer protection inclusive, specifically covering knock-off and used products. Make sure you get proof of purchase and a detailed description of the item from the seller to act as proof, just in case. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the seller’s reputation online through reviews and forum posts before committing to a purchase. A quick Google ahead of time could save you a lot of agony after the fact.
With all of the above in mind, you should be well prepared and protected against ending up with a fake phone. The chances of encountering them are slim, but it’s always best to be prepared. If you have any tips or experiences to share, be sure to leave a comment below.