AirPods retailers crippled by theft — Walmart, Costco, and Target named as customers receive 'fake or tampered products'

AirPods on shelf
(Image credit: Getty / Bloomberg)

Buying a new pair of AirPods should be exciting. You get to enjoy the seamless device switching, truly wireless connectivity, and everything else that comes with Apple's earbuds. But it turns out that even buying your new AirPods from a reputable retailer doesn't necessarily guarantee that the buying experience won't leave a bad taste in your mouth. That's after a new report explained that retailers including Walmart, Costco, and Target are all dealing with a common issue — they don't always know what they're selling.

We've reported before about an issue that has seen people order brand-new iPhone 15 models directly from Apple only to have something else arrive at their doorstep. Fake iPhones and swapped-out models are becoming a problem for those who order from home. But now similar problems are becoming more of an issue even if you visit your local retailer, too.

According to the report people have found that buying AirPods and other gadgets from retailers can prove problematic. Some say they received fake AirPods in real boxes, others say they received household items that had been used to add weight to an otherwise empty box. And, unfortunately, returning such items isn't always as easy as it should be.

Gone missing

The latest round of problems was picked up by Headphonesty and includes a number of reports on social media that include everything from AirPods to tablets like the iPad and game consoles like Microsoft's Xbox.

In one case, someone bought a new pair of AirPods from Walmart only to find that they had no serial number. The store reportedly told them that Walmart does not accept returns for Apple products as a matter of policy and that they had to go to an Apple Store instead. Things then went from bad to worse.

"I went to the Apple Store to confirm that they were indeed fake (no serial number along with 10 other issues. They broke in half when I pulled the ear tip off for the first time as well),” Reddit user ParkerApplejax explained. “The Apple employee confirmed they were fake and said 'yeah you would need the order number etc. So you would return them at Walmart, just like any other Walmart purchase'.”

Returning to the Walmart store didn't yield any results until the Redditor suggested they may take legal action to get the matter resolved. "I got my refund in seconds,” they added.

Another Redditor user commented that they bought AirPods from Costco (online, rather than from a store) and found that the outer packaging was sealed but the AirPods box had been opened. Inside, they found a metal nut that was presumably used to try and make the package match its original weight during transit. A refund was given, but that doesn't mean others won't experience a similar issue in the future.

The report notes that sometimes these problems stem from scammers buying products only to return them for a refund later. However, sometimes the items aren't in the box that they return despite it appearing to still be sealed. Other times, components are missing. Now, some retailers have reportedly taken to opening returned items to check their contents in an attempt to prevent them from later being resold to a new buyer only to find that the product has been swapped for something else.

It's clear that this is an issue that isn't only impacting Apple, but it's one that seems to have no end in sight.

More from iMore

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.

  • Annie_M
    So when buying in person from any retailer other than Apple, it might be wise to open the package in the store to make sure the contents are legit.