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How to Spot a Counterfeit Product

At first glance, a counterfeit may look just as good as the genuine article. But, there are ways you can make sure that what you’re looking at is a counterfeit. So, before you buy that $20 Rolex from a street vendor that they claim is genuine, take a really close look at it. Both in market places and online, it is crucial to be able to distinguish counterfeits from genuine articles and know how to identify reputable sellers.

Check the Price

The biggest sign of a counterfeit good is the price. As the old saying goes, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. A luxury brand item with a low price should immediately raise suspicion.

However, price may not always be a giveaway. Counterfeits can be sold with a big price tag, as if they were genuine. Therefore, it is important to know the other signs of a counterfeit product.

Check the Quality

The other big giveaway of counterfeit goods is the build quality of the product itself. Take a good look at the item in front of you and scrutinise every detail. If it feels cheap and flimsy, then it’s a counterfeit.

For example, for clothes and accessories, feel the fabric, inspect the seams and the print quality of any label. Look out for brand specific zippers, clasps or buttons that counterfeiters may have overlooked. Counterfeit clothes are made of low quality fabric or cheap faux leather and will have poor stitching and/or crooked labels. Also check to see if any tags are missing, either deliberately left off by the manufacturer or cut off by the seller in order to hide their place of production.

Counterfeit clothing in an Istanbul marketplace (photo by Zaminamina, via WikiMedia Commons)

When looking at packaging, if it feels flimsy then it’s a counterfeit. Inspect the quality of any printed labels, brands and any images used. If the printing looks blurred, faded or if the images used are low resolution and pixelated, it’s a counterfeit. Check any writing for spelling and grammatical errors, as well as the font used and whether it’s different to a genuine product. The biggest giveaway would be a lack of serial or model numbers, or trademark and patent information which counterfeiters may overlook.

Next, check what’s inside the box. Look at the product itself and whether it matches the image printed on the packaging. Check the quality of the materials used and whether it feels cheap. Counterfeits can also be missing instruction manuals, warranty certificates or accessories that would be packaged with a genuine product.

Where are you Purchasing It?

Genuine products will be sold by genuine brand outlets, authorised retailers and licensed resellers. Beware of street markets, bazaars or any suspicious looking shops claiming to sell genuine products. If they’re not counterfeit, then they could be stolen goods. Also, consider who is selling you the product. If they’re being pushy and short tempered or won’t allow you to get close to inspect the item, they may be peddling counterfeit goods.

If you’re shopping online, buy directly from the brand’s website, or when purchasing from an online marketplace, like Ebay, Amazon or Alibaba, always purchase through a reputable seller. That is, the brand’s official account or an authorised reseller. But, even the big web markets aren’t safe from counterfeits. In fact, it’s arguably more rampant. Apply the same level of scrutiny as you would anywhere else. Look at the price of the product and compare it to a genuine article. Again, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.

Instagram spam bots selling counterfeit luxury items (Photo by Andrea Stroppa, Daniele di Stefano and Bernardo Parrella, via WikiMedia Commons)

Check the description of the item being sold. If it’s full of spelling and grammatical errors, or if the seller doesn’t provide any high-quality images, it could most likely be counterfeit. Read the feedback and reviews of the seller. If it’s mostly negative or inundated with comments that say “fake”, avoid this seller. Other signs of counterfeit sellers include a lack of contact details, or a disclaimer saying “no refunds” – which is illegal under Australian consumer laws.

If you’re purchasing from a separate website, check where the domain is located. If it’s not in the brand’s country of origin, be suspicious. Check for contact details and avoid websites that don’t have a physical address or a working phone number. Most importantly, many counterfeit goods websites can also double as phishing scams. Make sure the website is a secure domain (“https” rather than “http”) before making an online payment. Even if the website is secure, consider using a pre-paid credit card or a card with a lower spending limit, which can be more easily cancelled.

The key is to be scrupulous when shopping. Massively discounted goods and poor build quality are giveaways that the goods being sold are not genuine. Have a feel of the product if you can. If something about it feels off about it, put it back and walk away.

Online markets aren’t safe either from counterfeits. Always buy direct if you want the genuine article. Third party resellers, unless authorised by the brand, and dodgy looking websites should be avoided. Remember, never enter any personal or financial details unless you’re on a secure domain.

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