How to spot a smartphone fake

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Shoddy exterior

The most obvious place to detect a fake phone is the exterior design; buttons in the wrong place, bezels that don’t look quite right, or a camera housing that isn’t flush when it should be. Unfortunately, well-executed dodgy devices are not so easy to detect from the outside; they only become obvious once you start using them.

If you are dealing with a private seller, the first port of call is to make sure the device turns on. Even if you are not there in person, the seller should provide images with the screen on and probably even send you a short video or GIF of them flicking through the UI. Never be afraid to ask for a closer look at the screen, even if it is just for cracks and scratches.

Knockoff software is usually a dead giveaway, particularly if the UI or app icons do not match the official device theme. You can get to know a new device just by watching some YouTube videos or reviews. Keep an eye out for strange-looking launchers and icons, missing features or menus, or non-standard pre-installed apps.

Performance is equally important here, and it is the main point that victims notice after purchase. Counterfeit handsets often include cheaper processors, which stutter and lag their way through daily use. Some apps and toggles probably will not even run because the operating system is only skin deep, so be sure to have a good dig through the OS and a few apps to make sure everything works correctly. If you can’t do so in person, you can always ask for video evidence. That is generally good advice for buying used or refurbished phones anyway — it helps detect if aging handsets have any battery or processor problems.

As always, be sure to follow general buying rules for used products too. Do not agree to pay outside official platforms where you will not be protected, meet in mutually agreeable locations, and avoid requests to bring cash on a first meet. As always, pushy unofficial sellers who will not answer detailed questions are a major warning sign.

Testing the phone out

While it is not always possible, we highly advise checking out second-hand and refurbished phones in person before handing over big sums of money. This way, you can double-check the handset’s physical condition and run a few simple tests to make sure it’s not a fake phone on the inside, either.

Check that the Hardware matches up.

A fake phone will scrimp out on cheaper hardware alternatives to make a profit. The most common scams involve:

Using poor quality cameras.

  • Omitting NFC or fingerprint components.
  • Even running homebrew software on cheaper processors.

Fortunately, it is very easy to find official spec sheets from handset manufacturers online to double-check against the phone in your hands.

First, make sure all the Hardware works. Toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, and any other features on and off. Maybe even connect to another device or network. Checking the fingerprint scanner options are actually in the security settings menu is not a bad idea either, even if the seller is not keen on you locking the phone with your print before buying.

Do not forget to test out the cameras, either. Ensure both the front and back cameras work and have all the features promised with the device, like a wide-angle lens or telephoto zoom. A fake camera app’s features and layout are always different from official software. Finally, take a picture and check the megapixel count. You can do this by pressing the info button in the default gallery app or Google Photos. An inferior camera module will be pretty easy to spot based on the photos it takes, even as viewed on the phone.


As we have mentioned, a counterfeit processor is a major red flag and will ruin your experience with your new phone, so it is definitely worth comparing the chip in the phone against the official spec sheet.

You do not need to take the phone apart to do this; you just need to quickly install CPU-Z from the Play Store. CPU-Z will give you a rundown of the key processing and low-level software components running inside the phone, making it virtually impossible to spoof.

Once installed, you can check out details about the CPU and GPU hardware on the opening page. If you’re not really into that technical stuff, the Device tab will give you the name of the processor chip under Hardware, which you can check against the spec sheet. You will also find the RAM and the phone’s display resolution listed on this page, which will instantly flag up any knockoffs. You can also install AIDA64 to cross-reference some details.

Compare the IMEI number

All of the above will help you spot a cheap fake phone, but it will not help against stolen or blacklisted products. To do this, you will want to check out the International Mobile Equipment Identification number (IMEI) against the claims made by your seller.

Each phone’s cellular modem is given a unique 15 digit IMEI number. It’s registered against the phone’s make and model number used to register and lock devices to specific networks and can also be blacklisted to block phones or SIMs if they’re stolen.

You can find a phone’s IMEI number in the About Phone section of the Android Settings menu. Alternatively, type *#06# into the phone’s dialer, and a box will pop up with the number. The IMEI is also included in the phone’s package, making it a cinch to double-check if your prospective purchase comes in its original packaging. Alternatively, popping the number into the website will give you a breakdown of the handset’s status.

The IMEI number is also very helpful for checking if the phone is locked to a specific network. If you’re promised an unlocked phone, you certainly will not want to find out it’s closed when you pop your SIM in. Sometimes sellers simply don’t check this information; others use the allure of an unlocked phone to bring in unsuspecting customers.


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