7 tips for spotting a fake mobile or smartphone

This post provides some tips to minimise the likelihood of you purchasing a less than genuine mobile phone or smartphone.

On Monday, 3 October , Research in Motion (RIM), the manufacturer of BlackBerry smartphones announced the launch of three new BlackBerry 7 smartphones for the Caribbean region.  The new phones: BlackBerry Bold 9900, BlackBerry Torch 9860 and BlackBerry Torch 9810, should be available from the company’s carrier partners in the region from mid-October. Around the same date, the much-anticipated iPhone 4S, from Apple, is also expected to go on sale in major markets.

New BlackBerry Bold 9900, Torch 9860 and Torch 9810

Smartphone product lines from high value brands such as Apple and RIM are normally priced in the region of USD 200 to USD 350. They also tend to be much sought-after brands by the consumers, which make them highly lucrative for counterfeit manufacture. A glaring example of this was the recent news reports of  fake iPhone 5 handsets being on sale in China, along with the fake Apple stores that were also discovered across that country.

How can you spot a fake?

Consider the following six tips.

1. Do your research. Although it almost goes without saying, it is important to be familiar with the appearance, specifications and features of the mobil or smartphone that you are interested in purchasing. This especially the case for new or soon to be released smartphones, where there might be relatively little information publicly available, or they might not yet be as widely released as earlier versions.

2. Check the appearance. Frequently, fake phones are a close, but not an exact, match of the original. There can be subtle inconsistencies in

  • colours and shades used
  • the manufacturer and product name
  • location of manufacturer’s logo and branding
  • the packaging and documentation provided
  • overall quality of the final product.

3. Check the weight. In order to sell the phones cheaply, inferior quality materials are generally used. As a result, coupled in the subtle differences in appearance, the final product might appear unduly light and flimsy.

4. Look closely at features and functionality. In addition to inferior housing, cheap electronic chipsets are usually used in counterfeit devices, and the operating systems used may, at best, also be substandard, or at worst, pirated. Prospective buyers are advised to try the phone before you buy, as users may experience limited functionality when compared with the real article in the following ways:

  • slower processing speeds
  • missing or limited features
  • incompatibility with known software and applications.

Additionally, some fake devices tend to be unreliable. They may work for a short time, but within a few weeks or even months, they stop working altogether.

5. Is it cheap? Relatively speaking, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Counterfeit devices tend to be heavily discounted, sometimes being sold for up to half or even a third of the retail price of the genuine version of the smartphone.

6. Can you return it, get it repaired or replaced?  All reputable manufacturers offer limited warranty on their mobile phones, e.g. on the handset, accessories and software.  On smartphones, the warranty is normally for a period of one year from the date of purchase by the original owner, and many resellers might offer extended warranty options. For imitation phones, little or no warranty is provided. Hence it is important to ask about the warranty provided and to ensure that clear information and documentation is supplied on the process and locations where such issues can be addressed.

7. Does it have an IMEI number? Every genuine mobile phone is issued a unique code, an International Mobile Equipment Identifier (IMEI) that is used to register the device to a mobile operator’s network. Certain networks, especially GSM networks, use the IMEI to identify valid devices. For stolen or questionable phones, network operators can use their IMEIs to block those from successfully connecting to their networks.

The IMEI of a phone is usually found printed under the battery. Alternatively, on most phones, it be displayed on the screen by entering ” *#06# ” via the keypad.

On the other hand, counterfeit phones tend either to have a fake IMEI, or no IMEI at all. These phones can experience difficulty registering on a particular network, which is a problem intrinsic to the device, and cannot be corrected by changing the SIM used.


The above tips are meant to provide some guidance to those who are being given an exceptional deal on a “new mobile phone” or “new smartphone”, and might be concerned about the possibility of buying a fake product. The best avenue through which to purchase genuine phones is through an authorised dealer or reseller of a manufacturer, which in the Caribbean, normally is mobile network operators or service providers. However, there are usually a number of local vendors that also offer a broad range of mobile phones and accessories for sale.

Although some of those resellers might be reputable, returns and refund policies across the region are generally not as established as in developed countries. Hence it is critical to do your research and examine the device along the lines suggested above. The objective is to try to get the phone you want, and limit the possibility of unpleasant surprises when purchasing a new mobile or smartphone.



  • Is this really a problem in Jamaica and the Caribbean? People are buying cell phones out in the streets, in the markets? There’s no consumer protection is a vendor sells something that doesn’t work? Or is fake?

    Clearly – you get what you pay for – right?

    • Hi Marc,

      I wholeheartedly agree with your point. Although the average person might be justifiably skeptical about buying a cell phone on the street, I think the waters get a bit more murky with shops, other than the telcos, that sell phones.

  • Is this really a problem in Jamaica and the Caribbean? People are buying cell phones out in the streets, in the markets? There’s no consumer protection is a vendor sells something that doesn’t work? Or is fake?

    • Hi Valencia,
      Clearly when you buy a cell phone literally on the street, there is really very little protection against faulty or defective goods. I think the larger risk exists when buys from shops that reselling those devices. They might not be authorised dealers, but have purchased a number of phones through another dealer or distributor, which they are now reselling to the public.

      Although there are customer protection systems throughout the Caribbean, you as the user will still suffer the inconvenience and frustration of purchasing a phone that was not genuine in the first place…

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