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4 Ways to Identify Fake or Counterfeit Merchandise



If you find an amazing online deal for a Rolex watch or a Fendi bag, there’s a good chance it’s not genuine – that’s the warning Better Business Bureau officials are issuing. Law enforcement says the Internet is overflowing with luxury fakes in categories including clothing, jewelry, perfume, handbags, and sunglasses, and this puts you at risk of paying far more than you should for a shoddy knock-off.

Though there’s nothing wrong with shopping for a good deal, unwittingly supporting counterfeiters can have serious ramifications to your finances and can fund other nefarious activities.

Dangers of Counterfeit Luxury Items

The Department of Homeland Security states that the total domestic value of fake products seized during 2011 was $78.3 million. If these items had been the real deal, it would have been worth $1.11 billion! According to the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition (IACC), everything from brake pads to computer cables can be fake, and often the sales of these products fund drug and crime rings.

The statistics from the IACC are shocking:

  • Counterfeit merchandise is directly responsible for the loss of more than 750,000 American jobs.
  • Approximately 5% to 7% of the world trade is in counterfeit goods.
  • The counterfeit industry has grown over 10,000% in the past two decades, in part fueled by consumer demand.

You may be expecting a great deal on excellent merchandise, but what some shoppers end up with instead is a knock-off product and the chance of having their identity stolen.

“Consumers can indeed find good deals on some new name-brand items and used luxury items,” says Paulette Scarpettie, President of the Connecticut Better Business Bureau in a news release. “However, if buyers aren’t careful, they may end up with poor quality items or hand over their credit card information and receive nothing at all.” Plus, contributing to the counterfeit industry is illegal.

Counterfeit Luxury Items

How to Spot a Fake Item Online

So how do you recognize the real deals when shopping online? Officials say a lot of fake merchandise is funneled through popular sites like Craigslist and eBay. In fact, luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co. did an investigation and discovered that 73% of purported Tiffany sales on eBay involved frauds. Vendors could also be peddling knock-offs through their own websites in an effort to avoid getting busted, as both Craigslist and eBay patrol this type of merchandise.

If you’re worried about spending big bucks on something that isn’t real, consider these four tips:

1. Research Business Reputations
The best way to avoid being taken advantage of is to purchase luxury goods through reputable businesses. One way to find out if a company is trustworthy is by checking with an industry’s professional association, or via the Better Business Bureau website, which can tell you if a retailer has received any complaints. Gain more insight by searching online for the company name and the word “reviews.”

2. Train Your Eye
Looks can be deceiving, and there’s no quicker way to learn that than by testing yourself in the Counterfeit Gallery created by the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition. Quiz yourself to determine whether you can tell if a Prada bag, Baby Phat jeans, or team sports jersey is real or fake. According to some experts, some tip-offs include poor stitching, crooked labels, or misspelled brand names. Also, certain brands have hardware like zippers, clasps, and screws that are specific to their brand. These are identifiers that help shoppers know they’ve found the real deal.

3. Look for Red Flags
It’s cliché, but true: If a price seems too good to be true, chances are, it is. Sure, there are bargains out there, but be realistic about what name-brand luxury items typically fetch. If the price is significantly lower, chances are you will get what you pay for.

Another red flag is the sales tactic: Is the seller using high pressure to get you to buy now? If they tell you to hurry because the deal won’t last long, there’s a possibility that what they’re selling isn’t what it appears to be.

4. Search for Overused Words
Experts say shady retailers often overuse words like “genuine,” “real,” or “authentic.” That’s because they’re trying to convince consumers they can be trusted when in reality they can’t. Furthermore, instead of coming out and saying something is a knock-off, they may use the phrase “inspired by” to get away with selling a fake.

Final Word

Even if you purchased a counterfeit Gucci bag for a price far lower than that of an authentic Gucci bag, if it’s fake, it’s still probably not a bargain. What’s worse, your purchase could be funding illegal activity, including child slavery. If you have purchased counterfeit luxury goods, you should file a consumer complaint with the Better Business Bureau, or you can file an online complaint through the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Have you ever bought a counterfeit item without knowing it until it was too late? When did you realize you’d been duped?

Alison Storm
Alison was born, raised, and educated in Iowa, but now lives in Greenville, South Carolina with her husband Tim. She works full-time as a writer, and loves her job, her church, and traveling. She's spent time in Belize, Guatemala, and the UK, but her most powerful journey was to Liberia, West Africa where she helped drill wells in remote villages with Water of Life. She's passionate about saving money and helping others do the same. You can learn more at

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