How to Spot a Fake iPhone

If you’re looking to get an iPhone as a gift for a friend or loved one, you’ve probably come across some very realistic fakes if you’ve been looking online at all, particularly if you’ve visited eBay or other online retailers. How do you make sure that you get a real iPhone out of all of the impostors out there? Well, that’s what this installment in our Learning iPhone series is here to help you with! Now let’s figure out how to spot a fake iPhone.

Fake iPhone

Know Thy iPhone

First, let’s cover a few basic facts about the iPhone that should help you eliminate the questionable devices from your shopping list.

There have been 3 iPhone models made by Apple to date:

  • The first-generation iPhone, also referred to as the 2G iPhone (where 2G refers to the cellular network technology it uses, also known as EDGE, and not its version) came in 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB capacities. It first became available in the U.S. in June 2007 and was replaced by the iPhone 3G in July 2008. It’s most distinguishable physical characteristic compared to later models is its back cover, which is mostly brushed aluminum with a matte black plastic portion at the bottom. It has a 2-megapixel camera with a fixed-focus lens and cannot record video or send MMS messages.
  • The iPhone 3G was released in July 2008 and is available in 8GB and 16GB capacities. The 16GB versions are available in two colors – white and black – while the 8GB version is available only in black. The iPhone 3G’s casing is all plastic, unlike the partially-aluminum casing of the first-generation iPhone. The 3G designation refers to the cellular network technology it uses, allowing it connect to networks that offer faster data connection speeds with more bandwidth. It also has a 2-megapixel camera with a fixed-focus lens and cannot record video, though it can send and receive MMS messages.
  • The iPhone 3GS was released in July 2009 and is available in 16GB and 32GB capacities. This time around, both capacities are available in black or white and it looks nearly identical to the preceding iPhone 3G model – the only outward physical difference is the lettering on the back that has a glossy chrome finish compared to the flat white lettering on the iPhone 3G. The ‘S’ designation stands for ‘Speed’ and does not denote anything special about its cellular network capability. It has a 3-megapixel camera with an auto-focus lens and it can record video and send and receive MMS messages, and it has a internal digital compass not found in previous models.

A few more facts:

  • All iPhone models have capacitive touchscreens – these screens react only to materials that can conduct electricity, such as your finger. A stylus made of plastic or metal will not work with them.
  • None of the iPhone models have an expansion card slot that will accommodate a microSD or other type of card to increase its storage capacity.
  • All iPhone models have both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios.
  • None of the iPhone models have an FM radio built in (technically, a tear-down of the iPhone 3GS by iSuppli shows that it has a chip with FM radio capabilities, but it is not active).
  • The battery in all iPhone models is not user-replaceable.
  • All iPhone models only have one SIM card slot.
  • None of the iPhone models come in red, blue, yellow, or any other color aside from black or white (iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS only).

Eye on the Prize

So, now you know the basics about all of the iPhone models, you know what to look out for. If you see any product descriptions or hear claims from sellers that the iPhones they’re selling have two SIM card slots and a 5-megapixel camera, you know they’re not real. Look carefully at the listed specs for the iPhone you’re considering and ensure it’s in line with what’s described above. You can also compare it to Apple’s official spec sheet here.

Still not convinced it’s real? If you can’t inspect it physically yourself, ask for the iPhone’s serial number – it’s printed on the iPhone’s box on the bottom label and is visible in Settings/General/About on the iPhone itself. You can go to Apple’s site here and enter the serial number to see if it’s valid – if so, you’ll be shown its model name and warranty status.

If the seller won’t give you the serial number or provide other proof (a purchase receipt from an authorized iPhone reseller) that it’s a real iPhone, you should move on and find another place to buy one.

Caveat Emptor

Many of the iPhone fakes out there look very convincing – enough so that the packaging and even the device itself may fool those who know what a real iPhone looks like very well. From what we’ve seen, it’s the phone’s software that will be the ultimate indicator. The iPhone’s operating system is proprietary and is not licensed to any other manufacturer and Apple put a lot of effort into every detail of its interface. An iPhone clone will not look as uniform and consistent throughout and will almost undoubtedly be less intuitive. Check out this video by MacMedics for a demonstration of a fake iPhone that looks a lot like a real one on the outside but its software clearly gives it away as a fake (in addition to the strange accessories it comes with):

A fake iPhone will not be recognized by iTunes on your computer as an iPhone and none of the apps available on the App Store will work on it.

Of course, your best bet is to go ahead and buy an iPhone directly from an official carrier or Apple store. To get to a list of where an iPhone can be purchased in your country, go to this page on Apple’s site.

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That’s all for this installment in our Learning iPhone series. We wish you great success in your holiday shopping and may you encounter no fake iPhones along the way! We always welcome your own tips and comments – feel free to share them in the comments section below.

  • khalil parkinson

    hi, i have a question, i noticed alot of people selling unlocked apple iphones for 350 a unit saying that thier authentic. its that how much Apple usa or other international iphones distributors really sell them for or are they more expensive than that? also i heard the china fakes are only 4gb capable is that true?

    • riana

      no the apple iphones are alot more than 350 a unit, i bought my unlcoked for $950 aus

  • http://www.craiglist.com Jinghua Wang

    Hi,
    Thank you very much for the information about how to identify a fake iphone. I want to buy an iphone as a gift for my son, a university student in China, but the price in your store is too expensive for me without any contract. I saw some ads for unsealed iphones but I’m not sure whether they’re authentic or fake. Now I’ve got to know the basic information about how to spot a fake one, which increases my identification ability. Many thanks.

  • i phone master

    ha ha love it you seem to know how it works i bet this is your very own ha ha on kidding i bought 1 of these last week thinking it was a real 1 i knew straight away when i opened it it were fake gutted because the website i got it from has dissapeard over night so iam stuck with it now wish i had knowen abount the serial thing first any way be carfull people theres lots of these being sold as i have seen lots of people complaining abount them

  • fake iphone fan

    Granted, the fake iPhone on the video looks pretty bad and unresponsive… but there are better models out there, you know? although it’s usually a matter of trial and error with these replicas.

  • i want one!

    god that looks so real! im looking at several on ebay, they are listed as un wanted upgrades, ive asked for serial numbers! now waiting for a reply message with the serial numbers!

  • greg

    hi i have a real 32gb black in the box brand new i phone for sale its on 02 network but i know can be unlocked i am looking for 490.00

  • fat boy

    iphone is crapp

  • algums

    pls,help me how to unlock my iphone,cause i leaving to other country so i can used it.thanks you,for your support.

    • Oktay

      You have to jailbreak it by going on jailbreakme.com on ur iPhone and use cydia to download ultrasnow which unlocks ur iPhone

  • Israel of Philippines

    about a few hours ago, a neighbor of mine tried to sale me his iphone to me, he claimed that his unit is real. Since i have no knowledge about the iphone i decided to check the net first before deciding, I read the above article and it said there that “All iPhone models only have one SIM card slot” wow!!! that was it, my neighbor’s iphone has 2 sim card slot. It really pays alot to research. Thank you for this very helpful information.

  • Adrian

    Hi, I been looking for an 3GS unlocked iPhone on eBay, I bid one from the list, the seller says that this iPhone is in great condition the price is around $450, I asked him the serial number and I am currently waiting his response. I think I have better identification skills now after reading this great blog, many thanks!!

    • dave

      even if you ask for the serial number from a seller on ebay, whats to stop them from having a real iphone handy and then sending you and other interested parties that number or even a picture of the number?

  • http://www.yahoo.com Larry P. Bontilao

    Very informative. thanks…
    I wish to receive more about how to spot fake iphones..
    Please keep it up……

  • Justin Pillay

    Hi there my girlfriend just purchased an iphone 3GS model off a local trading website in new zealand kinda like ebay and were suspicious if its a fake….it looks very much like the real one except on the back of it it does not state what capacity it is…i have an iphone 3g and it clearly states on the back that it is 8GB whilst hers has nothing. Her box says that it is an iphone 3GS 8GB model, did apple release an 8GB 3GS or was it only 16GB and 32GB. However the the phone has also been logged onto itunes and works perfectly fine and is able to use the apple store and app store. Its just that every iphone ive ever seen has the capacity on the back of it???

    • Seamus

      Maybe it was scratched off

    • regespina

      Hi justin, 

      Yes I apple did release 8GB for 3gs. 
      I have my 3gs from an official carrier and it does not have the capacity mark at the back. Since it works perfectly using iTunes, that should be ok.

  • Alper

    i think its real. Not all iphones says the gig. if it connects to the itunes there is no problem i think.
    you are really luckyy. now i am looking for a cheap iphone 4 online. there are bunch of chinese producers sayıng that they are sellıng orıgınal ones. u guys thınk it is possible ? its like 350 for brand new apple iphone 4 16g. they says it even comes with apple warranty.
    need some idea :)
    thanksss

  • amanuel tilahun

    i need to buy original iphone 4 how can i identify fake iphone 4?
    i phone 4 assemble i china is authentic i phone 4

    /

  • Jake Hawkins

    Hello,

    Thanks for this information. I just got offered today an iPhone 4 from as little as $34.90 from china.

    iPhone 4th + 3.2 inch GSM Mobile Touch JAVA Bluetooth — $34.9
    Technology make the world Beautiful and Modern! Model Number: 4GBasic !
    Delivery Lead Time: 1-3 day
    Shipment: DHL/UPS/EMS
    Manufacturer Warranty: 1-Year
    Payment Terms:TT/Western Union/MoneyGram
    Ex work- Shen zhen

    This is one of those to good to be true moments that you wish that they weren’t.

  • Iphone Curious

    I’m so paranoid about the unit that i just bought online. It’s a 3G 16GB white version. The writings at the back is what gives me this feeling. It doesn’t have what looks like “FC X C E” at the lower back portion. Please help me.

  • lina

    Hi guys, I am in the market for iphone 4 and I also found some on ebay that say it’s real, manufacturer unlocked and 32 gb iphone 4 for $350. But if I buy 20 of them it will be only $5000, i.e. $250 each. This is too good to be true, right? they offer free shipping, 1 year warranty and they say it’s original Apple iphone purchased from Foxconn. Has anybody dealt with such sellers on ebay? Oh, and it says the seller is in United Kingdom, but when you click on seller it says he is in China, or U.S. for the other seller.

  • Jennifer

    I bought fake iphone not nowing it was fake for $150.00. i feel so dumb i should have researched the phone first