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How to avoid Android iPhone 15 clones and buy the real thing

Published Nov 15th, 2023 1:26PM EST
iPhone 15 Pro profile shows the Action button.
Image: Jonathan Geller, BGR

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It’s Black Friday season, and you’re undoubtedly hunting for great deals on some of the most coveted gadgets out there. If the iPhone 15 is on your list, you probably know Apple isn’t the way to go. Look for sales from carriers and electronics retailers instead.

The second-hand market is an option for cheaper iPhone 15 units, which typically sell for much better prices. However, I wouldn’t suggest this route, even if you know what you’re doing. You might get scammed, which means either getting nothing in your package or buying an Android knockoff that’s nothing like the real thing.

In what follows, I’ll tell you what you absolutely must do to avoid becoming a victim. The following applies to buying any iPhone model from an unofficial source. And it was inspired by a story that made waves on Reddit this week. A UK resident purchased an iPhone 15 Pro Max directly from Apple in the UK, but they received an Android clone instead.

The iPhone 15 Pro Max clone

Redditor theEdmard’s story is a little different than the scenario I’ll be tackling below. He ordered an iPhone 15 Pro Max from Apple, and he got confirmations via email, including shipment tracking data. Therefore, we’re looking at a situation that will be resolved. Someone was able to steal this iPhone 15 Pro Max while it was in transit and replace it with a clone.

Most iPhone buyers have owned previous models, so they’ll know what to expect from a new unit. theEdmard is one of these buyers.

He immediately saw the signs that something was wrong. Even before the iPhone turned on, he spotted a screen protector and a large bottom bezel, which are unusual for an iPhone. Then, the software experience made it all clear. This was a cheap Android clone, not the iPhone 15 Pro Max he ordered.

But inexperienced first-time iPhone owners might be duped. They might think the clone and bad software experience are genuine.

Whatever the case, I’ll tell you what you must pay attention to when buying a new iPhone 15 from someone else and reference images that theEdmard posted online to prove my point.

theEdmard's iPhone 15 Pro Max retail box - notice the serial number and IMEIs on the bottom.
theEdmard’s iPhone 15 Pro Max retail box – notice the serial number and IMEIs on the bottom. Image source: Imgur

Don’t fall for prices that are too good to be true

The iPhone is expensive, especially the iPhone 15 Pro. You’ll never score a massive deal from anyone on the black market. Too-good-to-be-true prices signal a scam. The iPhone in question can be stolen/black-listed or MDM-locked. It might not even be an iPhone. Someone is trying to steal your money. And they might try to sell you an iPhone 15 clone, like the one theEdmard got.

Meet in person if you can

Only order online from Apple, online retailers, and carriers. theEdmard’s story shows that things can go wrong even then. But that scenario will be sorted. If you’re buying your iPhone 15 from someone else, pick an offer from your area so you can meet in person.

Choose a public place where you can quickly get help. Do not give the money before you’ve tested the device.

Ask for the iPhone 15 serial number and check it at home

The first thing you should do before even setting up a meeting is ask for the serial number on the iPhone 15 retail box. If they do not want to give it to you, that’s a red flag. It’s on the back of the box, and it’ll have to coincide with the serial number the iPhone shows in the Settings app when you inspect it in person. The same goes for the IMEI numbers.

These numbers are unique for each iPhone. Once you have your serial number, go to Apple’s website to check coverage for it. You’ll find the coverage tool at this link.

Checking <em>theEdmard's</em> iPhone 15 Pro Max serial number with Apple's coverage tool.
Checking theEdmard’s iPhone 15 Pro Max serial number with Apple’s coverage tool. Image source: Chris Smith, BGR

How to tell whether the iPhone is really new and unused

Since theEdmard posted images of the iPhone 15 Pro Max he ordered online, we can check the serial number. As you can see above, Apple tells us it’s an iPhone 15 Pro Max, which wasn’t activated. That means the person who has the handset hasn’t done anything with it. That iPhone, stolen as it might be, is new and unused as of this writing.

Say that someone sells a new iPhone 15 unit that’s sealed. When checking the serial numbers, you’ll need to get a message like the one above. Any message giving you a warranty expiration date is a red flag. It means the iPhone was activated. It might have been used. Or the person is trying to scam you.

Then again, a scammer could only have a correct serial number on the box. This is important to remember. Because you also need to look for the serial number inside the iPhone’s software.

When you inspect the iPhone, you’ll want to go to Settings, General, and About. Make sure the serial number and IMEIs match the ones on the box. If you compare the IMEIs (one for each SIM card) on the box theEdmard got (above) to the IMEIs in the software (below), you’ll see they don’t coincide.

The fake iPhone 15 Pro Max has different IMEI numbers than the ones on the retail box.
The fake iPhone 15 Pro Max has different IMEI numbers than the ones on the retail box. Image source: Imgur

By the way, if you’re buying a sealed iPhone, the seals at the top and bottom of the box should be intact. However, scammers have found a way to print their own seals.

Inspect the iPhone

If you’re buying a used iPhone 15, it’ll already be set up, so you can check the serial number as soon as you meet the seller. But if the device was not activated, you’ll need to go through the setup process.

theEdmard realized something was wrong even before getting to the setup process. First, the box had tears inside, suggesting someone had tampered with the seal before placing fake seals back on it. This is a red flag.

The iPhone doesn't come with a screen protector.
The iPhone doesn’t come with a screen protector. Image source: Imgur

More importantly, the iPhone had a screen protector applied. This is a big red flag. Apple never does this. Only some Android vendors apply protectors to their devices. Most won’t, so it’s up to you to buy a screen protector.

The bottom of the display is the biggest real flag in the case of theEdmard. It has a huge bezel, unlike what you’d find on any iPhone, especially the iPhone 15 Pro Max, which has even thinner bezels than their predecessors.

If someone is trying to sell you such a device, this is where you stop talking to them and go away. Maybe call the police if you feel like it.

No iPhone has such a big bottom bezel, especially the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
No iPhone has such a big bottom bezel, especially the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Image source: Imgur

If the screen looks like an iPhone screen, make sure you inspect the other parts of the handset. The sides, the rear panel, and the USB-C port need to be in great condition, especially if you’re buying a new iPhone 15 version.

The set up process

If you’re buying a sealed iPhone 15, you’ll want to negotiate with the seller to set the iPhone up before you purchase it. That’s the only way to verify it’s a genuine unit. If you’re a longtime iPhone user, you know what to expect. Hurry through it without entering any personal detail. You want to reach the Settings app and check the serial number.

If the iPhone was activated and used before, you’ll have no problem getting to the Settings app.

Absolutely do not enter your Apple ID or other login data until you own the handset.

In either scenario, it’ll be clear to you whether you’re dealing with the real thing or a fake.

The fake Settings app on the iPhone 15 Pro Max Android clone.
The fake Settings app on the iPhone 15 Pro Max Android clone. Image source: Imgur

You’ll want to run for the hills if it’s an Android phone. Here’s what the “iPhone 15” setup looked like for theEdmard.

Once I turned it on, I was greeted with a very poor setup process, and I immediately clocked that it was an Android device in a skin. It may have convinced my Grandad, but I could tell very quickly (especially when I saw actual Android toasts popping up in some cases)

I managed to skip all the setup screens and get into the phone. It has Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok installed already, the OS is glitchy and horrible, the camera is like a slideshow and crashes if you try to use any UI element on screen.

New iPhones do not come with any third-party apps installed. Let’s say you’re a first-time iPhone user, and the fake Android clone setup fools you. Seeing Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok on the device is a red flag.

Check for repairs

By following the instructions above, you can buy a brand new iPhone 15 from the black market for a better deal. You’ll be able to determine whether the seller is telling the truth as soon as you set up the iPhone for the first time. If it’s indeed new, you don’t have anything to worry about. You will get a standard one-year coverage for it, even if you didn’t buy it from Apple.

If it’s a used device, you’ll want to pay attention to the About section I mentioned above. In it, look for a Parts and Service History. If it appears, it’ll tell you whether the iPhone had any repair work done and whether it involved genuine parts from Apple or components that might give you errors.

I wouldn’t buy an iPhone giving any Unknown Part errors in this section.

A warning on the iPhone 13 Pro informing you the display isn't a genuine part.
A warning on the iPhone 13 Pro informing you the display isn’t a genuine part. Image source: Apple

One more thing

You can apply the same process to buying any sort of Apple gear from the second-hand market, whether it’s an iPad, MacBook, or Apple Watch.

You will want to pay extra attention to AirPods. Clones might be even more convincing when it comes to AirPods, as there’s no screen for this device that involves a software experience.

Back to the iPhone 15, your best bet is getting the handset from Apple or one of its retail partners, especially if any of the steps above make you uncomfortable.

If you’re buying an iPhone on a budget, you can look at older options, as Apple still stocks the iPhone 13 and iPhone 14 models. The iPhone 15 will get its price cut only next September when the iPhone 16 arrives.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.