PokéBase - Pokémon Q&A
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This thread will help you determine whether your Pokemon are hacked. It is designed to be a comprehensive list of ways that you might detect illegal traits on your Pokemon. If you have anything to add, any updates to make or any errors to point out, please leave a comment or contact a staff member.

This question is a member of the common repeat question list. This means that any new questions which could be resolved using the contents of this thread will be closed. However, if, after reading the guide below, your issue is not resolved, then you may post a new question indicating this.

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Preamble

DISCLAIMER: It is impossible to differentiate a well-made hacked Pokemon from a legitimate Pokemon. Though your Pokemon may 'pass' each of the checks on this list, there remains the possibility that it was created by a careful hacker using a sophisticated save file editor. The only way to guarantee you will not get a hacked Pokemon is by trading only with people you know and trust, i.e. by avoiding services like the GTS. We cannot give you final confirmation of whether your Pokemon is legit if it passes all the checks.

IMPORTANT: An 'illegitimate' Pokemon is not the same as an 'illegal' Pokemon. An illegitimate Pokemon is a Pokemon that was obtained dishonestly, but not all Pokemon that are obtained dishonestly have traits that would render them illegal. Hack checkers, including those used by transfer facilities and at competitions, are not magic and cannot pick up illegitimate Pokemon if they have no illegal features. Checkers are noted to have flaws and to pick up false positives. Do not rely on them to determine your Pokemon's legitimacy.

Many people investigating hacked Pokemon wonder whether hacked Pokemon will damage their save file. It is extremely unlikely that receiving a Pokemon that was hacked by somebody else will damage your save file, especially in modern games. Poor/sinister editing technique may rarely cause them to crash the game (example), but hacked Pokemon seldom corrupt save files. The process of editing save files to create hacked Pokemon more commonly causes damage. It is also unlikely that using hacked (but legal) Pokemon will cause your account to be banned from online games, as hacks are very difficult to prove in this case. However, you should not take Pokemon with blatantly illegal traits (i.e. available only through hacks) into online matches.

Guide

For the purposes of this thread, a hacked Pokemon is defined as one that was created or edited using external software, or changed from being exposed to it. The list below will help you detect Pokemon with illegal traits that could only have been created through hacking, or breeding hacked Pokemon. It will not tell you whether a Pokemon that passes all the checks is hacked (see disclaimer above).

Ways of identifying hacked Pokemon are listed in bold, and explanation is provided in dot points.

Common sense

  • Common sense is the first technique, because it will resolve the issue for 90% of people reading this thread. If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is. If your suspicions of a hack were great enough that you went looking for confirmation online, then there's probably something in it!
  • The average person does not hand out legitimate Shiny Pokemon, rare legendary Pokemon, or competitive battle-ready Pokemon on random trading services. If you received one of these in a random trade, e.g. on the GTS, Wonder Trade or Surprise Trade, then you should assume it is hacked.
  • Hackers intentionally craft Pokemon to imitate event distributions or static encounters that could have been accessed legitimately. Those Pokemon might look real, but that does not excuse how unlikely it is that a person was willing to give away a legitimate rare Pokemon at random. The older and more niche an event is, the less likely it is to be in fair circulation.

Location or method of capture

  • If, on its summary screen, a Pokemon is listed to have been obtained in a location where its species isn't normally found (and it is not indicated to have been bred), then it is hacked. Use location guides on Bulbapedia to see where your Pokemon can be found legitimately. Pokemon that were obtained by breeding could have hatched in any location the player can access and walk inside.
  • As of Gen 7, Pokemon that are transferred do not have entries listed on their summary screens about their date of encounter, level of encounter, or the precise location at which they were encountered. If your Pokemon is transferred and is missing these, it does not necessarily mean it is hacked. needs update
  • Due to glitches, some Pokemon can be met at locations that they wouldn't normally, without the involvement of hacking software. For example, it is possible to catch an infinite amount of Arceus from Jubilife City in Diamond and Pearl using the RETIRE exploit. Despite having an illegal encounter location, such Arceus will transfer to Gen 7 games.

Event Pokemon

  • If your Pokemon's location entry indicates it was obtained through an event, e.g. 'a fateful encounter', and it does not share necessary traits with any of the event Pokemon distributed for its species, then it is hacked. Use Serebii's Event Database to track event distributions for your Pokemon's species. Especially, compare their IDs, OTs, Ribbons, encounter levels, shininess, moves they can remember and games they were distributed in, and make sure everything checks out. Event Pokemon IVs can be another discriminating factor, though information on them is scarce.
  • Pay attention to wordings like 'in the Hoenn region', 'in the good old days' and 'seems to have travelled through time and space'. Respectively, these indicate your Pokemon was not obtained in the same region as your game, that they were obtained through Virtual Console transfer and that they were transferred from a previous generation. This can help you detect discrepancies: for example, if you have a Pokemon that looks like an event Victini from Black/White, but it lacks even one of the 'from the Unova region', 'fateful encounter', and 'time and space' wordings, then it is hacked. (The game stacks all of these, including in Sw/Sh.)
  • Even if your event Pokemon seems legit, it is still likely to be hacked because real event Pokemon are valuable, and people generally won't give them away. (There are extra reasons you shouldn't see certain event Pokemon on the GTS and similar services; read on to learn more.) Some event Pokemon are distributed widely and do not have trade restrictions -- all the more reason to double-check using a website.

Poke Ball

  • Generally, event Pokemon are distributed with a prescribed Poke Ball. If you have a Pokemon that appears to imitate an event Pokemon but does not have the correct Poke Ball, then it is hacked.
  • Prior to Gen 8 and the Sw/Sh Expansion Pass (where all Poke Balls can possibly be used on any Pokemon), some Poke Balls are 'exclusive' in the sense they can only be present on certain Pokemon. For example, if you have a Pokemon in a Safari Ball whose species has never been obtainable in a Safari Zone, then it is hacked. Other common offenders include the Dream Ball and Sport Ball. Check this guide created by Smogon for an in-depth Poke Ball guide that is up to date as of the last relevant game for Poke Balls (Ultra Sun/Moon).
  • A Pokemon in a Poke Ball that it could only be captured with in a past generation is not necessarily hacked if it is missing the 'time and space' memo. The Poke Ball could have been legitimately passed down through breeding in a modern Pokemon game.
  • A Pokemon with an illegal Poke Ball can pass its illegal Poke Ball down through breeding.

Shiny

  • Starting in Gen 5, some Pokemon are Shiny locked. This means they cannot be Shiny unless they were obtained through an event, i.e. had a 'fateful encounter'. Check the bottom of this page on Serebii for a list of Shiny locked Pokemon. If you have a Shiny, non-event Pokemon whose species is Shiny locked, then it is hacked.
  • A list of Shiny-locked Pokemon which have not had Shiny event distributions, and are therefore wholly unobtainable in their Shiny forms, is available on Bulbapedia.
  • People tend to value Shiny Pokemon they obtained through legitimate means. This means any Shiny Pokemon you get through a random trading service is most probably hacked.

First-met level

  • Each evolution line has range/s of levels at which they can be encountered through legitimate means, as dictated by the levels each member can be found at in the wild, whether they can breed, if they can be found through in-game trade, and if they are available through event. If your Pokemon is listed as having been encountered at a level beyond its legal range/s, then it is hacked.
  • For example, a Duraludon from Galar can be met between levels 45 to 48 and 50 to 52, as well as level 1, in accordance with its location data on Route 10 and the Lake of Outrage, its ability to breed, and the fact it has never been distributed through event or in-game trade. If you have a Duraludon that was not met between these ranges, then you can tell it is hacked. If Duraludon had a pre-evolution, then any level/s at which said pre-evolution could be encountered would also be added to the 'whitelist'.
  • Generally, event Pokemon have static levels. This means that if you have a Pokemon that appears to imitate an event Pokemon whose 'met at' entry does not match the level/s the Pokemon was distributed with, then it is hacked.
  • The level of encounter is only displayed for Pokemon that were caught in the game (or generation of game?) you're playing. Transferred Pokemon that are missing an indication of what level they were captured at are not necessarily hacked. needs clarification

Current level

  • A Pokemon's current level can indicate it is hacked if it does not adhere to its evolution level or an event encounter level. In this sense, each Pokemon has a minimum level at which it is legal, which tends to be higher for evolved Pokemon. (For example, you cannot get a level 1 Rillaboom without abusing glitches. However, a Rillaboom can have a 'met at' level of level 1 if it was bred, as it could have been a Grookey at that point.)
  • This guide on Serebii should be useful in determining if a Pokemon is at a level it cannot be legitimately obtained at according to its PokeBall.
  • Some Pokemon can be caught in the wild or obtained through events at a lower level than evolution would ordinarily permit. Make sure to check each encounter technique for your species of Pokemon.
  • The second stages of baby Pokemon can be legally gained at level 1 through breeding without the correct Incense. For example, level 1 Snorlax is legitimately obtainable.
  • If you received a level 100 Pokemon through a random trading service, then you should heighten suspicions it is hacked.

Character limit reached; please see the answer below posted by Fizz for more.

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Pokémon transferred from Gen 3 to 4 or from 4 to 5 will have the date that the Pokémon was transferred. Pokémon transferred to Gens 6 or 7 through Pokémon Bank have the date removed entirely, but will still say the region it was originally caught in.
Sometimes the GTS, Pokemon Bank, and the Battle Spot won’t let you use Pokémon. I had a Mew in red that I couldn’t transfer because it had the wrong trainer ID and name.
As of the isle of Armor expansion for swsh, any Pokémon obtainable in swsh is obtainable in a safari or sport ball!
I have a zygarde level 70 I traded for a level 85 groudon. If you also want to know if a pokemon is hacked check its memories. My zygarde was caught in a cave in the kalos region. That's a place zygarde can be caught so it's most likely not hacked.
6 votes

This answer is continued from Hellfire Taco's above.

Origin mark

  • Since Gen 6, all Pokemon have been assigned origin marks indicating which games they are from. If a Pokemon has an origin mark for a generation that they (and any Pokemon they evolve from) are not catchable or breedable in, then it is hacked. For example, Unown, Deoxys, Keldeo, Genesect, Diancie and Volcanion cannot have an Alolan black clover.
  • Pokemon that are unobtainable in a given game, but evolve from Pokemon that are available in said game, can have an origin marking from that game. (Examples include Electivire transferred as an Elekid or Electabuzz from Virtual Console Gen 2 with a Game Boy mark, or Rhyperior transferred as a Rhyhorn or Rhydon from Let's Go, Pikachu!/Eevee! with a Let's Go icon.)
  • Only the first 649 Pokemon, plus Sylveon and Mr. Rime, can lack an origin mark; the latter two by virtue of being transferrable from a Gen 5 or earlier game in their unevolved forms.
  • The game uses origin marks as an indicator of legitimacy, but origin marks can be hacked.

Illegal pairings of independently-legal traits

  • Due to event Pokemon and the changing availability of moves between generations, certain characteristics which are legal for a given species can hint that they are, in fact, hacked if they are paired with other legal traits which happen to be impossible to get at the same time. For example, a Claydol that knows Endure is not inherently illegal, because it could learn that move through tutor in Generation 4. However, a Claydol that knows Endure is illegal if it was originally obtained in a game from Gen 5 or above. In a similar sense, if Arceus's Shiny lock was only lifted in Gen 6, then any Shiny Arceus from Unova is hacked.
  • Some features are only available on Pokemon when they are obtained through event. If a Pokemon has one of these traits, then they must also have all the other traits of their distribution, or they are clearly hacked. For example, if you have a Jirachi that knows (or can remember) Heart Stamp, then it must also have an OT of おりひめ or ひこぼし, an ID of 07185, a Classic Ribbon, legal IVs and the correct encounter memo, or else it is hacked.
  • Illegal crosses of legal traits can also occur between moves, and other qualities that affect battles, including abilities and natures. For example, Extreme Speed is a popular move on Entei; but if an Extreme Speed Entei does not have an Adamant nature like its only distribution is supposed to, then it is hacked.
  • In select cases, Pokemon with event-exclusive traits get tripped as false positives when a person tries to transfer them using PokeTransfer and the like. Though such event Pokemon are entirely legitimate, if you happen to encounter one in a modern Pokemon game, you can be sure it is hacked as there is supposed to be a barrier to its entry in your game. There is no comprehensive list of false-positive event traits. Gen 8?
  • Pokemon that lack the correct origin mark to reflect generation-restricted traits are hacked. For example, a Conkeldurr cannot have Knock Off in addition to a Sw/Sh origin mark, as Conkeldurr cannot learn Knock Off in Sw/Sh.
  • This thread on the Smogon forums lists many illegal combinations of traits, as well as other pointers for detecting hacked Pokemon in each generation. It is recommended reading.

Ribbons

  • Most event Pokemon come with a Ribbon of some kind. If you believe you've got a Pokemon imitating an event Pokemon, cross-check that it has the correct Ribbon/s. If it does not, it is hacked.
  • Pokemon with the Classic Ribbon, Premier Ribbon and Birthday Ribbon cannot be sent through random trading services like the GTS, though they can be traded through manually-established connections. Almost all Pokemon distributed through event have one of these ribbons, so if you receive an event Pokemon like this through the GTS, it is hacked.
  • Certain Ribbons can only be obtained in a particular game or generation. Make sure there is no mismatch between your Pokemon's Ribbons, origin mark or encounter memo.

ID, OT and nickname

  • Often, event Pokemon have prescribed IDs and OTs. If you have what appears to be an event Pokemon, look up whether it had a set ID/OT. If it did not, then the ID/OT is not a useful determining factor (excluding names that trigger the game's censor). If it did, and the ID or OT does not match, the Pokemon is hacked.
  • If you have an event Pokemon with a prescribed OT, also ensure that its nickname matches the one used in the distribution. (In very very rare cases, this will not be a true distinction, as coincidental matches between a traded Pokemon's original trainer's ID, secret ID, gender and name with their new trainer's details can enable them to change nickname.)
  • Twitch streamers, YouTubers, Discord servers and subreddits that circulate hacked Pokemon often use OT names as self-promotion. If your Pokemon has an OT or nickname that ends in .yt, .tv, .com and the like, then it is almost certainly hacked (and will be treated as such by others, even though an OT name makes no guarantee). Twitch streamers who frequently distribute hacked Pokemon include Mitsuki, ITSK33N and AusLove, and common websites include Machamps.com and freepkm.com.

IVs and other stats

  • From Pokemon X and Y onward, all legendary Pokemon obtained in-game or through event distribution have at least three perfect IVs. You can use the stats judge in Gen 6 to see which, and how many, stats your Pokemon is perfect in. In subsequent generations, you can use the unlockable IV checker in the PC to see all your Pokemon's IVs. If your legendary Pokemon doesn't have enough perfect IVs, it is hacked. If it has all perfect IVs, then the chance it is legitimate and somebody was willing to trade it is virtually zero.
  • Gift Pokemon and Pokemon transferred through LGP/E or Virtual Console are also guaranteed to have three perfect IVs. If your Pokemon looks like one of the in-game gifts, has a Game Boy icon or has an LGP/E icon, check whether it has these perfect IVs.
  • Due to personality value mechanics in Gen 3 and 4, certain combinatons of natures and IVs are not possible in those games. Notably, Pokemon from this era with six perfect IVs can only have one of a limited set of natures, which varies based on how the Pokemon was encountered and other factors relating to its personality values. This Smogon thread goes into detail on which combinations are legal. Personality value compatibility is not an issue for Pokemon encountered in Gen 5 or above.
  • A Pokemon with an optimal competitive nature, EV training, perfect IVs and Egg moves is, more likely than not, hacked if it is being sent out randomly on a trading service. However, a level 1 Pokemon with all these traits except perfect IVs and EV training is more likely a 'breedject'. These Pokemon are very unlikely to be hacked directly; however, almost all of them are bred from hacked or cloned parents (especially Ditto).
  • Pokemon with illegal stats should trip the game's hack sensor, but also be reasonably simple to detect in the event the sensor fails radically.

Moves

  • Typically, Pokemon with illegal moves cannot be traded, as the game will turn them back indicating there was a 'problem with this Pokemon'. However, if in doubt, check the Pokemon's learnset on Bulbapedia, taking into account all generations which the Pokemon could have been present in, as you can infer from its encounter memo. In particular, check moves they can learn through tutor and event, which are commonly glossed over.
  • Remember that certain combinations of moves might be illegal, as some are restricted by event or by availability per generation. Entering Pokemon into the teambuilder on Pokemon Showdown! and validating them for Ubers or AG is a reliable way to check if their moves are compatible. Extensive work is put into this simulator to ensure legality mechanics are accurate. (If the Pokemon is not available for Gen 8, validate for Gen 7 formats.)

Ability

  • It shouldn't be possible to trade Pokemon with illegal abilities over the GTS and similar services. Nevertheless, you can easily check abilities for each species online.
  • In Gen 5 to Gen 7, some Pokemon have Hidden Abilities that have not been 'released', i.e. cannot be obtained through in-game means and have never been included in an event. If you get a Pokemon like this, it is hacked. In Gen 8, all Pokemon with a HA can access their HA using Ability Patch. Check the Bulbapedia lists of Pokemon with released HAs for Gen 5, Gen 6 and Gen 7.
  • Some event Pokemon come locked into one ability. If you have what appears to be an event Pokemon that has an ability which isn't recorded as being possible through Serebii or Bulbapedia, then it may be hacked. Further, Hidden Abilities can only be obtained at first through particular techniques; check the your Pokemon's encounter data marries with an encounter method listed on Bulbapedia.
  • Note that if you're playing a Gen 6 game or above, the Pokemon may have had its ability swapped using an Ability Capsule, which might relive suspicions on the condition the distributed ability wasn't a HA and the Pokemon you've got doesn't have its HA. If you're playing a Gen 8 game or above, then the Ability Capsule and Ability Patch combined eliminate abilities as a factor completely.

Language

  • Pokemon that were encountered in a game whose language does not match that of your own game will have an icon on their summary screen. The icon indicates the language of the game they were caught in, but not the geographic location they were caught in. It is possible for some Japan-exclusive event Pokemon to have an ENG language marker, for example.
  • However, language tags can prove hacks in unique ways. For example, if you have a Pokemon in a 3DS game whose language is JPN but their custom nickname is longer than six characters, then they must be hacked because the Japanese game only allows six characters to be entered. Broadly, if there is a mismatch between a Pokemon's custom nickname and the characters available on the keyboard for their language, then they must be hacked. This is not a true distinction for Switch releases, as the console has keyboards for many languages.
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I once got an egg via Surprise Trade in my Shield, and it hatched into a Genger, which is 100% illegitimate. Can you trade eggs though?
You can, but you're not supposed to be able to do it over surprise trade. That being said, I haven't tried doing that in Sword/Shield, so maybe it changed since the last time I tried to do that. I know you can trade them through link trade.