AirPods are awesome, trendy, and expensive. If you have the option to buy these popular earbuds at a discount, especially a steep discount, you’re obviously going to be interested. However, that enthusiasm is fueling the fake AirPods market, so much so Apple has included an AirPods verification check in iOS 16. So, how can you protect yourself against getting ripped off by a counterfeit Apple product?
I’m not talking about legit wireless earbuds from competitors, of which there are many excellent (and not-so-excellent) options. I’m focusing on products designed to look and feel like genuine Apple AirPods, but which simply are not: They’re fakes, knock-offs, whatever you’d like to call them, crafted to fool you into thinking you’re buying the real deal for an exceptional price.
Keep a healthy skepticism
Hunting for the best deal possible AirPods deal is certainly a good strategy. But if you see a price that’s simply too good to be true, it just might be. You don’t need to worry too much buying from a store like Amazon—though if you buy from a third party, vet the seller to make sure they’re legitimate—nor should you fret about buying from a major retailer like Best Buy or Walmart.
But if you see a great deal on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, or Craigslist, use caution. Not buying fake AirPods is the only guaranteed way to avoid a scam. Real AirPods are sold on these markets all the time, and finding a good deal isn’t impossible. But just to be safe, here are some thing to look out for.
Take a good look at the box
Fake packaging can be a dead giveaway, so examine it carefully. This is obviously easier to do in person, but you can also ask for close-up pictures. Apple, like other tech companies, takes great pride in its presentation. There will be no spelling or grammar issues with a legitimate AirPods box, nor will there be imperfections like pixellated or distorted images.
Make sure what’s inside the box is supposed to be there
Again, Apple’s packaging is uniform. Each product will feature the same exact packaging from box to box, with no deviations. Take a look at the AirPods model you’re interested in on Apple’s site, and see what’s supposed to be included. For example, AirPods 3 are supposed to come with AirPods, a MagSafe charging case, a Lighting to USB-C cable, and some documentation. If something is off—the Lightning cable is USB-A rather than USB-C, say—you know you have a fake.
Check the serial number
If you have access to the device, checking the serial number is a quick way to test whether it’s a phony or not. On AirPods or AirPods Pro, you’ll find the serial number underneath the lid of the charging case. On AirPods Max, it’s underneath the left ear cushion.
Of course, a scammer could get creative and print a legit serial number on the packaging to fool someone trying this method. To truly make sure you’re seeing the serial number that’s tied to the AirPods themselves, you’ll need to pair them first, then head to Settings. On iOS 16, tap your AirPods, which will be listed towards the top of the page. On iOS 15 and earlier, head to General > About. Select your AirPods, then check out the serial number.
Once you have the serial number, enter it on Apple’s official check coverage site. If the AirPods are real, you’ll be able to check the status of the coverage this way. However, if the serial number is invalid, you won’t be able to proceed.
Try setting them up (especially with iOS 16)
Apple has an excellent system for setting up AirPods for the first time. All you need to do is open the charging case next to your iPhone, and a pop-up will appear guiding you through the process.
Fake AirPods have a hard time replicating this easy setup experience. If these AirPods ask you to pair via the Bluetooth settings menu, especially if they ask to pair AirPods one by one, they’re fake. Apple never pairs AirPods individually.
However, some scammers have cracked the code, and now trick iOS into prompting the AirPods setup experience. With iOS 16, Apple is fighting back: If you try setting up a fake pair of AirPods with an iPhone running the new OS, you’ll see a new pop-up that states “Cannot Verify AirPods. These headphones could not be verified as genuine AirPods and may not behave as expected.” You can then choose to not connect them, or to set them up anyway in Bluetooth settings.
Compare and contrast
Look up the tech specs for the AirPods you purchased, such as those for the AirPods 3, and compare them with the AirPods you have. Do the dimensions seem to match Apple’s? Is the charging case the right size? Does it have a Lightning port rather than a USB-C? If applicable, does wireless charging work, and, if present, does MagSafe?
The same goes for the unique features attributed to each AirPods model. Taking an AirPod out of your ear should stop music playback by default. Long-pressing the stem of an AirPods Pro will call up Siri. A double-press of the stem will skip forward a track. These are all features that can be customized after the fact, but, out of the box, they should be present and working as expected.