Fake AirPods are a bigger problem than you might think. With so many legit-looking AirPods clones floating around, it can prove difficult to spot counterfeit earbuds.
However, you can take several steps to see if the AirPods you are contemplating buying — or that you already bought — are genuine Apple products.
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How to spot fake AirPods
Given the popularity of AirPods — Apple captures nearly a third of the earbuds market, with millions sold each year — and the relatively high price of the white-hot wearables, it’s probably no surprise that the market is flooded with knockoffs. Authorities regularly seize fake Apple products worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
So, how do you keep from falling victim to counterfeiters hawking bogus AirPods?
Examine the AirPods packaging
If you are considering purchasing a pair of AirPods that you think might be fake, first look closely at the packaging. At first glance, the retail box of a set of counterfeit AirPods might seem quite similar to Apple’s packaging. But a closer look can reveal some tell-tale clues that indicate the earbuds are fake.
Confirm the address mentioned on the back of the box. Examine the printed graphics closely, and check for typos or other oddities. Just like its products, Apple pays close attention to its retail boxes. The packaging feels great to touch, and the plastic film on top is easy to remove. If you spot anything off, chances are the AirPods you plan to buy are fake.
… and pay close attention to the earbuds’ build quality
Besides the packaging, closely inspect the AirPods themselves. Apple’s products are known for their build quality — that’s one reason you pay a premium for them.
Counterfeit AirPods might look like the real deal, but they are unlikely to be anywhere close when it comes to the manufacturing. Be sure to check the fit and finish of the earphones. And if you’re buying AirPods Pro, examine the ear tips that come bundled with them. If you find any irregularities, that would be a clear giveaway that the AirPods are not genuine.
But not everyone is savvy enough to identify fake AirPods from their packaging or build quality. This is where the serial number of the product comes in.
Check your AirPods serial number
One of the best and easiest ways to confirm that your AirPods are not counterfeit is to verify their serial number with Apple. You can find the serial number of your AirPods on the packaging they arrived in.
Apple also prints the serial numbers on AirPods charging cases. Simply open the lid and look on the underside. (You might need to use your iPhone’s built-in magnifying glass to see the tiny digits.) If you own AirPods Max, removing the left magnetic ear cushion will reveal the serial number. And if your AirPods are paired with your iPhone, you can find the serial number under Settings > Bluetooth > AirPods.
Once you know the serial number, head to Apple’s device coverage website, where you can find the warranty status and AppleCare eligibility of any product. Enter your AirPods serial number there to confirm their genuineness.
But there’s a problem. Even if Apple confirms your AirPods are genuine, that’s no absolute guarantee that they are not fake. In some instances, counterfeit AirPods ship with genuine serial numbers. This is why you must also check out the other measures in this guide to ensure your AirPods are not fake.
Pair the AirPods with your iPhone to see if they are real
Another way to check whether the AirPods are fake is to pair them with your iPhone. AirPods offer one-touch connectivity with iOS devices. So, as soon as you bring them close to your iPhone, a pairing dialog box will pop up. Continue with the pairing process, as fake AirPods can fool the initial setup process.
When trying to pair non-genuine AirPods, your iPhone will automatically show an alert that they are fake. A “Cannot Verify AirPods” dialog box will appear, saying the earbuds could not be authenticated as genuine.
Things get a bit more complicated if you are buying the AirPods to use with an Android phone. The counterfeit earbuds might pair and work with your phone just fine, and you wouldn’t be able to tell they were fake. Perhaps this could be a good enough reason to switch to iPhone.
No matter what, don’t simply try to judge whether the AirPods are fake by listening to music or making a few calls. Unless you know how good AirPods sound, you won’t be able to tell the difference.
What to do if you purchased fake AirPods?
If any of these tests reveal that your AirPods are fakes, what should you do? All is not lost yet. You can still try to get your money back.
If you bought the AirPods on Amazon, contact customer support and request a refund. If you purchased the earbuds from a seller on eBay, file a claim and explain the situation in detail. Depending on the seller’s rating, eBay might help you get your money back.
If you unknowingly purchased fake AirPods from a lesser-known website, and the site’s customer support offers no help, you should contact your credit card issuer. You can request a chargeback, which is a sort of purchase protection option that many banks offer. However, you may need to file a police report to make this happen.
If you paid in cash, you cannot do much to sort out your counterfeit AirPods. That money is essentially gone.
Irrespective of how you got your hands on bogus AirPods, report them to Apple through the company’s counterfeit prevention website. This may not directly benefit you, but it will help Apple clamp down on fake AirPods.
How to avoid buying fake AirPods
The best way to ensure you buy a genuine pair of AirPods is to get them through a trusted and well-known retailer. In the United States, your options include Apple, Best Buy, Amazon, Walmart and B&H Photo/Video among others. They are all popular retailers, and the chances of getting fake AirPods from them are almost nil. And if that somehow happens, you can return the earbuds for a refund from legit sellers like these.
Some other online shops or local stores might offer the AirPods at a lower price, but there’s a possibility they could be fake. We have compiled links to the best retailers below from where you can buy the AirPods in the United States without any worries.
- Apple — you’ll likely pay full retail price, but you know you’re getting legitimate AirPods straight from the source. Plus, Apple offers free AirPods personalization. You can get the case engraved with emoji, names, initials and numbers “to make AirPods unmistakably yours,” the company says.
- Amazon — the online giant offers great prices and great customer service.
- B&H Photo Video — the online retailer sells Apple gear including AirPods at competitive prices.
- Best Buy — the electronics giant often offers sale pricing on AirPods.
- Costco — the members-only warehouse typically sells Apple gear at less than retail price.
- Walmart — the world’s largest retailer often offers AirPods at sale prices.
Once you get your legit AirPods
Once your order arrives, check out how to set up and use your new AirPods correctly. And then check out some hidden AirPods tips and tricks to get the most out of the earbuds. Also, consider buying some useful AirPods accessories from the Cult of Mac store to protect your new earphones.