Counterfeit Products: Bargain, or Pricey Mistake?

Consumer protection, News

We all found screaming deals on normally expensive big-brand items over the holidays, and we felt like rock stars about it. After the wrapping paper settled, however, many of us found that some deals may have been too good to be true. Here’s how we got scammed — and how to avoid making the same mistake again.

The Growing Fake Industry

There’s nothing wrong with finding a good sale or settling for a cheaper version of a high-end product that can ask for more money because of its street cred. What stinks is thinking you got a good deal on a high-end product, only to find that it’s fake.

Counterfeit products aren’t a new thing, but the market for fakes is growing — especially online. Ebay is a popular distribution hub for Chinese-manufactured copycats, and even Amazon has limited control over their third-party sellers distributing counterfeits.

Some people don’t mind buying common dupes of designer handbags, jeans, or sunglasses, despite the way it ultimately hurts the American economy. Some people mistakenly buy pirated versions of DVDs, CDs, or computer games, and some flat-out steal them (often leading to malware on your computer, mind you). More obvious bummers include fake jewelry, watches that don’t work like their quality counterparts, fake sports memorabilia, or counterfeit tickets to concerts or sporting events.

Counterfeit Cosmetics: Dangerous Dupes

Fake cosmetics are on the rise; copycats are increasingly distributing copies of high-quality makeups and fragrances. The internet has given counterfeiters easy access to a large pool of customers looking for a discount on their favorite products. Many of such sellers are outside the U.S., making it hard for consumers and law enforcement to fight back.

Aside from their poor quality, what’s frightening is that fake cosmetics and perfumes can be dangerous. Knockoff makeup may contain a number of known carcinogenic ingredients, as well as high and dangerous levels of aluminum and bacteria. The price cut is not worth the acne, rashes, eye infections, or other irritations or allergic reactions. Counterfeit fragrances often contain probable carcinogens as well, and are even known to sometimes contain urine! It’s not worth the risk, folks.

How to Spot Fakes

Whether you’re buying makeup or other products online or from local vendors, there are a few things to check when ensuring you’ve got the real thing. Make sure the packaging colors and typeface match the real thing (some companies post pointers on their websites for spotting phonies). If the price is drastically lower than usual (especially at flea markets or swap meets), don’t hesitate to be suspicious, unless a store is simply liquidating their inventory. For fragrances, the scent may be off, and the color of the fluid may be different than the original.

How to Avoid Purchasing Phony Products

First and foremost, always ensure that you buy products from authorized retailers. Avoid websites that you are unfamiliar with — the ones with too-good-to-be-true prices. Product descriptions or other website content written in poor English should also be a warning sign. If buying from eBay or Amazon, check the seller’s feedback, scrutinize product photos (photos should be of good quality and not obviously stolen from an authorized retailer’s website). If the seller is offering large amounts of the same or similar products — and especially if they are listing them as “limited edition” products, something’s probably up. “Discontinued” items should also be on your red-flag radar. Scrutinize, scrutinize, scrutinize. You may report counterfeit vendors to the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR).

A few other tips for ensuring the legitimacy of your purchased products:

  • Ask for a certificate of authenticity on autographed memorabilia.
  • Have an independent appraisal done to verify the value of jewelry or artwork.
  • Buy sports merchandise that is officially licensed by the NFL, NBA or other sports organizations.

The bad news… “If you find out that the merchandise you bought or received is counterfeit, you are probably stuck with it,” says Better Business Bureau President Tom Bartholomy. “It’s hard to return pirated software or fake tickets.”