SHOPPING - Sep 3, 2021

How to Shop Safely Online: 20 Best Tips to Help You Spot Designer Counterfeits

by GEMMA PRIOR
Oroton Cole Cognac Day BagPhoto: Oroton.com


The ‘success’ of the counterfeit market is not without significant victims. This market is alarmingly linked to human trafficking, slave labour, terrorism, crime syndicates, drug trade, tax evasion, and the loss of millions of legitimate jobs globally. 

With Covid more of us have been flocking to the internet to shop than ever before. But is online shopping safe? Chances are many of us have unknowingly suffered in this area. 

But you can shop safely online and you don’t need to be an expert. So read on to learn how to spot counterfeit products and make all your buys worthwhile. 

THE MOST COUNTERFEITED BRANDS IN THE WORLD


If a lot of people want it then chances are it won’t be hard to find a fake. Brands such as Cartier, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and Co., Coach, Ralph Lauren, and Michael Kors are very high on the list of counterfeited labels, as well as smaller high-end brands like J W Anderson and Jacquemus.

But it’s not just the luxury fashion names that attract the attention of counterfeiters. 

According to a report in 2019 by The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), among the most counterfeited brands in the world were less expensive labels like The North Face, Levi’s, Ugg, Ray-Ban, and Nike. So it pays to be mindful even when  you’re not shopping high-end labels

 THE IMPACT OF  EVERYDAY KNOCKOFFS


In an article by the Business of Fashion it was reported that, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as of 2017 the global trade in counterfeit goods was valued at US$450 billion.  

And in a separate report in 2018 by market research firm Research and Markets, the prediction was that this trade was bound to reach US$1.82 trillion by 2020, resulting in the clothing sector alone suffering US$32.2 billion in lost revenue.

Some of us might justify counterfeit purchases claiming that luxury labels make plenty of money so buying knockoffs is a harmless bit of fun. 

Well, the actual repercussions are far more damaging than a bit of lost revenue for well-to-do labels. Law enforcement authorities have uncovered intricate links between counterfeit goods and horrendous crime.

As luxury sales expert Becca Risa Luna explains, ‘The scary truth is that counterfeiting is linked to crimes such as terrorism, human trafficking, drug smuggling, gang activity, and child labor.’ She goes on to say, ‘Imagine that a counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbag may have been stitched by a child that was taken from their parents, then the money used from the sale of it funds terrorists purchasing weapons.’

It’s a cruel and appalling concept.

They also have a seriously damaging impact on the global economy. Aside from the enormous loss to global revenue mentioned earlier, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) estimates that the counterfeit trade could result in global net job losses of $4.2 to $5.4 million by 2022. They’re not small numbers. 

These fake products can also tarnish the reputation of the brands being copied. If other people see an item and, thinking it’s the real deal, are disappointed by the quality, the label can suffer. Never mind the lost revenue due to consumers buying counterfeits rather than authentic products.

So the bottom line is, counterfeit products have enormous repercussions. They’re never harmless fun.

HOW TO SPOT A FAKE WHEN YOU’RE SHOPPING ONLINE

Bottega Veneta Jodie Mini Knotted Leather Tote in White from Net-A-PorterPhoto: Net-a-porter.com


Years back, counterfeit goods and knockoffs were pretty easy to spot. It was the stiff, chemical-scented ‘Louis Vuitton’ being sold in stalls along the streets of Thailand and the ultra-cheap 'Chanel' sold at home shopping parties. 

These days however, as the market for counterfeit goods continues to expand rapidly and counterfeiters are becoming more cunning and skilled (some even classed as A-grade), it’s essential, now more than ever, to learn how to shop safely online. 

According to a report in 2020 leather goods, footwear, and apparel were the industries most affected by counterfeiting.

And it’s no longer just the big labels such as Chanel, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton who are battling knockoffs. Now, even smaller labels such as J W Anderson and Jacquemus are subject to counterfeits. 

Most of us are determined to never purchase from this illegal market, yet nowadays it can be quite difficult to be certain that you’re not buying a counterfeit. 

According to Vestiaire Collective, an online marketplace for buying and selling pre-owned fashion, almost half of Australian female shoppers have unknowingly purchased counterfeit designer goods.

To help you know how to spot counterfeit products, shop safely online, and avoid purchases you’ll regret, we’ve put together some essential tips to use whenever you’re shopping.

1. Compare prices:

It might be difficult to acknowledge reality when the price is so good, but you’ll kick yourself later, no matter the ‘savings’, if you know you’ve wasted money on a counterfeit. So it’s a good idea to compare the price you’ve found with products listed on the brand’s site or a well-known store.

2. Stock availability:

A few days ago I was searching for a gorgeous pair of Manolo Blahnik slides. They were sold out in every store I visited. I finally found a store claiming to be a luxury outlet which had a very good selection. 

The alarm bells were sounding. A luxury item through an unknown outlet? Available in every size? Half price? 

A bit like the magical price tag, magic stock availability is another screaming sign of counterfeit products. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

3. Site language and grammar

Expert counterfeiters will have this covered by now but some others still don’t. I have seen poor spelling, grammar, and punctuation on websites claiming to stock high-end products.

One of the most memorable was, ‘Wanna make a return? No probs’! Not the language you would expect from luxury brands. So have a look around the site and see how they measure up. 

4. Suspicious website layout

Designer labels and stores will all use websites with a professional style - expertly designed and effortless. Meanwhile, sites selling counterfeit products might have a poor site layout, use very unspectacular images, and might even include crude messages indicating how much you can save.

5. The real deal

Familiarise yourself with the genuine article, on the brands own website or another well-known store,  so you’re more likely to spot a fake when you come across it. Pay attention to the fine details such as patterns, quality of materials, current seasons colours, logos, tags, and design features such as zips and buttons. 

6. Outlet stores

Luxury labels aren’t haphazard when it comes to selling stock that’s out-of-season. They will strategically team up with certain vendors who are approved to sell their stock at a discount. So be wary of outlet or discount stores selling luxury items. And if in doubt, contact the brand and check with them.

7. Store reviews

A little bit of homework on a seller is always a good idea as well.  Review platforms such as Trustpilot provide another method to help determine whether the site you have visited is honest. A quick search of the store’s name will provide an overall rating and a list of individual reviews from others who have shopped there.

8. Contact details

Be wary if you find yourself on a site which provides no effective method of contact such as live chat, email, phone number, or office address. This would be unusual for a quality label or store.

9. Peer-to-peer sites

On platforms such as eBay there’s no doubt you can find authentic designer items and generally these sites are great for grabbing items from everyday labels such as Everlane or Arket. 

However, if you’re looking for luxury it will take quite a lot of investigative work to determine whether you’re buying a valid item or not. 

In 2008 eBay was ordered by a French court to pay €38.6 million in damages to fashion house LVMH after they argued that 90% of the Louis Vuitton bags and Dior perfumes sold on eBay were counterfeits.

10. Second-hand

If you’re looking for a more affordable item, something that’s sold out, or a product from a past season your best bet is to shop through a legitimate consignment store. 

I won’t promote all consignment stores as a safe option, but these days there are quite a few well-known places for you to explore. 

You can also check whether the store uses an authenticity team to verify luxury labels as this is the method used by trusted consignment stores. 

And if a consignment store is legitimate and reliable, then if you have concerns regarding your purchase and its authenticity, they should offer you a money-back guarantee.  

11. Payment methods and secure sites

Legitimate stores will offer secure payment methods such as PayPal and credit card transactions. Scam Watch suggests, ‘When making online payments, only pay for items using a secure payment service - look for a URL starting with ‘https’ and a closed padlock symbol, or a payment provider such as PayPal.’ 

If the store you are shopping does not offer these options and verifications then, to be on the safe side, it would be best to leave the site. 

Scam Watch also advises, ‘Avoid any arrangements with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency, like Bitcoin. It is rare to recover money sent this way. Never send money or give credit card or online account details to anyone you don’t know or trust.’

12. Authentication service

There are also services you can use, such as Real Authentication, which can review an item you have purchased or are considering to purchase and determine whether it’s authentic or not.

Also, if you have had a bad experience in this area and you’ve unfortunately found yourself with a counterfeit, there are methods for reporting scams. A quick search online to report a scam should provide you with a relevant website.

CHECKS TO RUN WHEN YOU RECEIVE YOUR PURCHASE


If you've received an item that leaves you with concerns then there are some more things you can check to determine whether you've received an authentic product.

1. Quality of the material

This is often a key giveaway. Whether it’s clothing or accessories the material used to create designer goods is always superior. 

For instance, the touch and smell of premium leather is very different to the material used for some counterfeit goods. High quality leather has a beautiful soft and supple texture and smells like luxury, rather than the plastic or chemical-like smell common among counterfeits. 

Even the material that’s used by designer brands to line their handbags will be high quality. If the fabric is wrinkled, the seams are untidy or pucker, or it appears in any way an inferior quality to what you would expect, it’s not likely to be authentic.

In regards to the fabric used for clothing, again, designer clothes will only be made from quality fabric. Thin, flimsy, easily wrinkled, and easily stretched materials do not qualify for high-end fashion. 

2. Hardware

This refers to the quality of features, internal and external, such as zips, buckles, strap adjustments, loops, clasps, turn locks, and magnetic fastenings. 

Authentic hardware will be sturdy, secure, reliable, and well attached to the piece. It will also be easy to use. 

If the hardware is flimsy, difficult to use, poorly attached, or quite yellow and shiny, they are all signs of a fake. Quality products will only exhibit quality hardware.

3. Fine Details

Before luxury products make it to the market they undergo serious quality inspections. If you see an item that is supposedly from a high-end designer yet you’ve noticed even some minor shortcomings, be wary.

For instance, quality products will only ever display quality sewing. If you notice the stitching isn’t immaculately straight or the seams appear insecure and of inferior quality, that’s a strong sign the item isn’t legitimate. 

Counterfeit handbags will sometimes use stitching on the inside of the bag that doesn’t match the colour of the material. And edges and corners are also often where stitching and details on fakes will get sloppy.

Also, hems and seams on quality clothing will always be strong and appear in perfectly straight lines showing consistent borders throughout. 

Buttons are another feature that will always be firmly attached to valuable products.

And designer brands will even ensure labels are of good quality. Any text will be parallel to the edging or border stitching, will be skilfully attached to the product, and the spelling and grammar will be perfect. 

Labels on fakes however might be made of cheap material showing stringy edges, the text might be printed on a slant and they could feature errors in the spelling and grammar. 

And whether it’s the edging on handbags, beading on clothing, or finishing touches on shoes, high-end labels will always use trimmings that clearly and positively represent the value of their brand. 

Any little detail that’s less than perfect is a red flag. 

4. Made in china

The majority of luxury and high-end labels will not be made in China. So if your recent purchase displays a ‘Made in China’ tag, then there is a possibility that you are looking at a counterfeit. 

Having said that, there are still some expensive labels who are outsourcing to countries such as China and Vietnam. And obviously, counterfeit producers can also create tags to appear authentic. So it’s simply another method of scrutiny to add to your investigation. Again, you can contact the brand to confirm this information. 

5. Packaging

With luxury labels and stores the packaging is almost as good as the product. Items will mostly arrive in branded dust bags and boxes of excellent quality. And there will be no plastic. Whereas fakes will be more likely to arrive with some plastic involved. 

Smaller valuable labels and stores may not use superior packaging, but their products will still be packaged carefully and aesthetically, with respect to you, their buyer. Generally these stores will use tissue paper to wrap your purchases.

6. Hang tags

Designer labels don’t use plastic hang tags bearing their brand name. Quality brands will only use a strong cord to attach tags made of firm card.  

7. Authenticity Cards

Some luxury labels don’t actually use these, yet counterfeits will still include them as a way to lure customers into believing an item is authentic. So just because an item has an authenticity card doesn’t make it authentic.

8. Suspicion 

If you receive an item that leaves you suspicious the best place to start enquiring is with the brand. If their advice is that the product is not authentic then contact the store you purchased from. And if you have no luck there and you’ve paid using PayPal then you may be eligible for Buyer Protection

If you purchased using your credit card then contact your bank quickly as they may be able to arrange a charge-back.

NOW YOU’RE SET TO KNOW HOW TO SPOT A FAKE


These days most counterfeit products are much better quality than their older versions making it harder for us to determine whether we’re investing in a fake or a legitimate product. 

But now you have some simple, valuable tips to help you. 

The easiest methods for ensuring you shop safely online and that you’re purchasing the honest product you were hoping for, are to buy from a reliable source that provides a quality website, offers safe payment methods such as PayPal, receives positive reviews, and provides a loyal return policy. 

Not only will you be spending your money on something worthwhile that you can enjoy with genuine affection, but you can also be sure that your purchase is not funding a market responsible for serious crime, human rights violations, and massive job losses. 

And at the end of the day listen to what your instincts are telling you. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

So share this with your fashion-loving friends and family to be sure they're all shopping the safe way.

And we’d love to hear from you and learn from your stories on this topic, so send us a line in the messages below


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