Although it aired many decades ago, some people remember the television show called “To Tell the Truth.” The show dealt with one of life’s eternal questions: how can you tell what is true as opposed to a lie. In it, three people sat before a panel. Two of the three were impostors. It was the panel’s job to ask questions to determine the identity of the real person. At the end of the show the show’s host would say “Will the real John Doe please stand up.” At this command, the real John Doe stood and the impostors were left sitting in their seat.
When it comes to consumer purchases, it would be nice if we could command that the truth be made known. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
The market for counterfeit luxury items is a perfect example. Everything from jewelry and handbags to clothing and sunglasses are ripe with the availability of fake, shoddy products. For bargain-hunters looking for name-brand items at discount prices online, the Better Business Bureau warns consumers to be on the look out for web-based rip-offs.
According to a report by the Department of Homeland Security, the total domestic value of counterfeit merchandise seized during 2011 was $78.3 million, an amount that would have had a value of $1.11 billion had it been legitimate. The category of seized consumer safety and critical technology goods rose in value by 41 percent compared to 2010, the report says.
Online classified sites like Craigslist or eBay are hot spots for counterfeit luxury item fraud online, and both sites offer “buyer beware” warnings. Some illicit vendors are now setting up their own web sites to fool frugal fashionistas.
The BBB offers the following advice for shopping safely online when looking for deals on designer goods, as well as tips on how to spot a fraud:
- Always deal with reputable businesses. The number one way to avoid getting ripped off when buying luxury goods is to deal with reputable businesses. When in doubt, shoppers can contact the manufacturer and verify which vendors are authorized sellers. Consumers should also check out the business with the BBB before making a purchasing decision.
- If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. One of the biggest red flags for knock-off merchandise is an unrealistic price. Extremely low prices are tempting but not to be believed. Paying $100 for a $1000 purse could result in the consumer receiving a poorly constructed – and worthless – fake.
- Read between the lines. Some web sites or online classified ads will go overboard in their description of the item in order to coax the buyer’s trust. Overuse of “genuine,” “real” or “authentic” is a bad sign. Buyers also need to keep an eye out for sneaky phrases like “inspired by.”
- Check the merchandise. Considering that the name is a large part of the motivation for buying a luxury brand, many manufacturers spend considerable time and energy on crafting the physical label. Counterfeiters aren’t usually as meticulous. Shoppers should look for misspelled words and brand names, poorly sewn logos and labels, etc. Some luxury goods carry an “authenticity label” with a hologram or other security measure.
- Know the brand. Different luxury brands, such as purses, have specific hardware consumers can rely on to identify a genuine piece. Zippers, screws, clasps and stitching are usually very specific for the brand and the manufacturer often has details on their website explaining what to look for and how to spot a knock-off. Craftsmanship is king for most luxury brands. If the sunglasses snap in two in the first week, or if the stitching and seams are ragged and don’t match up on a purse, the items are probably counterfeit.
Consumers who have purchased counterfeit luxury goods and paid with a credit card should contact their card company and challenge the charge. Consumers can also file a complaint online with the BBB or the Consumer Product Safety Commission.