Smart SpendingSmart Spending

How to spot 10 counterfeit products

A few simple rules: Make designer purchases with a fraud-protection credit card, never wire money and don't use a debit card.

By Karen Datko Nov 16, 2010 4:22PM

This guest post comes from Phil Lindeman at's Go Frugal Blog.


The next time you ogle discount handbags at a downtown street vendor, keep in mind: Counterfeit products cost the global economy an estimated $600 billion in legitimate revenue every year, or roughly the price of 240 million Prada handbags. No joke.

Fakes are hardly a shocking sight, but with the holidays hot on our collective heels, counterfeits of everything will be more prominent than usual. Web shoppers looking for authenticity at online warehouses or on auction sites like eBay should be especially wary of cut-rate wolves in chic sheep's clothing.


Of course, counterfeits are naturally enticing, especially when attached to dapper names like Louis Vuitton, Coach and Rolex. Most designer brands have some type of knockoff floating around, often a very convincing replica claiming to be the real thing but for much, much less. (When I say counterfeit or imitation, I don't mean purposely off-brand items with no intention of masquerading as the real McCoy.)


Truth is, whether you're buying designer handbags, shoes or jewelry, the original is going to be expensive -- it's the reason those labels are coveted in the first place.


Tips abound on how to dissect the many dishonest replicas of designer brands. One simple rule to always follow: Make designer purchases with a fraud-protection credit card and never wire money or use a debit card. Here's a collection of the 10 most oft-imitated items, along with tips on how to see through and ultimately avoid supporting a multibillion-dollar black market.


Ugg boots. Imitation Uggs are nearly more prevalent than the legitimate boots, forcing the brand to confront the problem head-on with a counterfeit education page on its official website. It's hard to tell if the brand's anti-imitation pandering is equivalent to Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich whining about Napster, but it includes many useful tips for spotting fakes of any sort.


Along with crimes against the company's bottom line, Ugg claims counterfeiters often employ child labor, participate in identity theft and have connections to organized crime. In other words, those aren't snuggly folks making your snuggly boots.


To quell the problem, Ugg provides a list of its authorized online and storefront retailers, as well as images of counterfeit boots. (The anecdotal method of judging simply by the label no longer holds true, unfortunately.) Beginning with the fall 2010 line, new Ugg boots will come with a reflective sticker or sewn-in tag. Tilt the doodad and a hologram pops up. Very space-agey, but a quick way to guarantee authenticity.


Diamond jewelry. Fake or imitation jewelry isn't necessarily a bad thing. For many people, it's an attractive alternative to ungodly priced diamonds and gemstones. You don't, however, want to pay premium and expect something real, only to learn it's synthetic. You'd basically be signing a fraudster's generous paycheck.


As always, be especially careful on the Internet. Before making a buy, watch for stones with overly creative names -- Australian jade is treated quartz, American ruby is garnet -- or those labeled as a "composite," which is usually several gems mashed together. Certification from the Gemological Institute of America or American Gem Society Laboratories is a plus as well. Jewelry wholesalers are especially tricky, so be sure to do careful research and scope our post on buying reliable bling, "Beyond diamonds: 10 secrets to buying jewelry."


If you make a purchase and have a sick feeling the jewelry is fake, take it to a reliable jeweler. Counterfeiters have a large, bejeweled bag of tricks, but professionals can spot most in seconds.


Gold. Similar to diamonds, fake gold jewelry is common because it looks and feels like the genuine article. Most imitation gold does contains some gold, but it's often plate as opposed to solid. The easiest test is to wear your jewelry for several days. If it leaves marks on your skin or begins to fade, you've been duped. Another reliable method is to place a strong magnet on the jewelry. Genuine, solid gold won't be attracted, while the iron and other transient metals in fake stuff will.


You'll also want to avoid jewelry labeled as "gold flashed" or "gold washed," which describes an extremely thin electroplating of gold that will disappear faster than a fake tan.


A word to the wise: Avoid a double-whammy of wasted dough and don't bother with home gold-testing kits. They generally work, but a jeweler can verify authenticity and karat weight for nearly $50 less.


Sunglasses. You've likely seen the kiosks at a fair or other outdoor market: stands of imitation sunglasses sold as mere images of elite brands for hundreds less. You know, the vendor knows, and you expect nothing more. Reflect on that moment and consider it next time you see "authentic" Oakleys or Ray-Bans online for a huge discount. Why would you assume the glasses from a kiosk-like online store are legitimate when you scoffed at obvious fakes on the street?


By and large, it all comes down to buying from dependable sites. Do your research and try the glasses on at a brick-and-mortar dealer. You can tell the difference in fit and feel between knockoffs and the real deal, especially with sport-inspired lines like Oakley and Smith.


Your best bet is to visit the brand's official website and find where the glasses are manufactured. Almost every high-end brand includes a "made in" label on the frame or packaging. If your pair is missing one or doesn't match up with your research, chances are they're fake.


Watches. A fake Rolex was arguably the original designer counterfeit. It's so common, I know many people who automatically assume a Rolex is fake until proven wrong. As luck would have it, the most iconic watch brand in the world feels the same way. There are plenty of built-in features to an authentic Rolex watch, including precision engraving, minor logo variations and multi-colored movement. Counterfeiters are extremely adept at creating Rolex replicas nowadays, but a Texas-based watch dealer put together a thorough breakdown of telltale signs, including pictures.


As for other brands and online purchases, you may need to forgo frugality and buy direct from a manufacturer's website or authorized dealer. Very few watches come with the intense counterfeit protection of a Rolex. However, the daily-deal website sells luxury items one at a time, usually at hefty discounts of 50% to 75% off. If you're itching for some wrist-bling, scope Joma or check for store-specific watches' free shipping codes.


Handbags. Coach is another common target for fraudsters. A recent WalletPop post listed it among the five most-counterfeited brands online -- a dubious honor indeed.


Understandably, Coach doesn't offer tips on how to spot counterfeits as they could be used to craft more convincing replicas. But real Coach purses and wallets are sold only through brick-and-mortar stores, the Coach catalog, department stores, specialty stores, duty-free locations and the Coach website.


Aside from Coach, nearly every posh name deals with fake designer bags and wallets. Some general rules to follow:

  • High-end labels rarely sell through street vendors, and nearly everything found at one is either fake or stolen.
  • Low-quality leather, fabric or stitching is a dead giveaway for shoddy rip-offs.
  • And to echo nearly every designer website, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Google searches don't discriminate between legitimacy and fraud.

Designer suits. As with many fakes, the bigger and more in-demand the designer name, the more likely it is to be faked. This rule is no different for menswear. Boss, Armani, and Dolce & Gabbana are some of the most frequently mimicked.


Since suits are more intricate than smaller items, counterfeiters have more room to trip up and give themselves away. Carefully check all tags for misspellings, including the care instructions. If buying online, ask for pictures of the tags if none are available. Also, certain brands have distinguishing marks. For example, real Armani and Boss suits never come with embossed buttons. For other tips, call a local tailor or tuxedo shop and ask for their advice before forking over cash.


Luggage. While many argue a designer label is just that -- a label -- luggage is a different story. Do you want your knockoff Samsonite falling apart in the gentle embrace of a baggage handler, only to spew your underwear across the tarmac?


Rolling luggage is the most important to check for authenticity. Look for an aluminum frame, quality double-stitching and a storable handle, preferably one that locks in place. Be wary of 360-degree wheels. Ever since Samsonite introduced them, many lesser brands have imitated the design with low-quality rollers.


Perfume. Most fake designer perfumes come close enough to duplicating the elusive scent of expensive brands (minus subtle notes, but we won't go there). But knockoffs lose their scent over time, essentially becoming a useless bottle of water.


Before buying online or in-person, try several legitimate scents. Aside from exploring what smells purdy, you can easily get an idea of perfume color, strength, box design and specifics like liquid weight. Use all these qualities as comparison points before springing for a discounted bottle. Many salesmen will dilute the real thing with water and try to sell the perfume as full strength.


NFL jerseys. The pro football season is in full swing and nearly everyone's holiday shopping list will contain a football fanatic. I've never owned a jersey, solely because they are inordinately expensive. Only league-licensed apparel can be labeled "authentic," meaning they're exact copies of what the players wear. This honor ups the price to nearly $250, while even "replica" jerseys are in the $125 range.


The pages of eBay are choked with fake jerseys, many of which are simply T-shirts that boast shoddy numbers, names and colors. Be wary of anything advertised as league-licensed and selling below the $75 mark. If you want the overpriced -- ahem -- authentic experience, two features are dead giveaways: the sides and tags. Bona fide jerseys feature spandex along the ribs and are only made in South Korea, El Salvador or Senegal.


More from and MSN Money:

Nov 16, 2010 10:50PM
You know, Our Customs services should have a grip on some of this crap. We get stiffed, the government gets taxes from these purchases. The people are the only ones hurt in the deal. Who's watching the hen house?
Nov 17, 2010 12:13PM
I buy a lot of my purses at secon-hand stores.  Goodwill or Salvation Army.  I get a lot of name brand ones there.  I don't care if they are the real deal since I am paying a lot less.  I am very picky so I only buy good condition and clean purses.
Nov 17, 2010 11:22AM

I wouldn't get ripped off... I won't buy this crap. I've found purses made in the good ol' USA at KMART for $17!!! I like my $17 purse.



Nov 17, 2010 10:13AM
From what I understand, alot of the real items are made in China.  The Chinese are very resourceful and have taken to making fakes in the back streets.  In my opinion what did they expect would happen? They should have continued making the products where they could keep better control.
Nov 17, 2010 10:04AM

Well, maybe if people weren't so stupid as to think a designer label somehow makes an article more worthy, or makes themselves, the buyer, more special, then there would not be a problem in the first place.


I mean really, when I see handbags, sometimes really ugly ones at that, selling for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, I often wonder how the people who "just have to have them", will justify that kind of selfishness to the Creator when the time come.


If you simply must spend ridiculous amounts of money for things in order to feel good about yourself then go give that money to a charity. Or if you must have the symbol to show people how wonderful you are, at least match your expenditure with a contribution to a charity.


Some people just make me ill.

Nov 17, 2010 8:33AM
Don't forget fake playing cards for Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic the Gathering. I've not come across a lot of fake Magic cards, but I can spot phony cards from the other two a mile away. Look for differences in print (like the font size won't be right) and card picture itself. Yu-Gi-Oh is well-known for editing their cards (outside of Japan, of course) for cleavage and blood and guns. Fake cards might include the Japanese artwork. Also, the color of the card itself will be off. Check here: for not only card rulings but for card pictures as well. Also, watch for phony sets, too. For Pokemon, even easier. For one, if a card's supposed to be foil a certain way and the exact same card is not, then you've been duped. Another test: hold the card up to the light. If light passes through, then you've got a fake (or that's how it USED to be years ago. It still works for older cards). Also, check if the pack you bought has ALL foils. That is a clear indication of the pack being counterfeited. Again, check the Pokemon wikia for images.

How do I know this? Easy. I got duped before and learned my lesson, the hard way.
Nov 17, 2010 3:33AM
if its from china, HELLO if you shop at Wal-Mart, DUH lets simplify: if its fashion ask a teenage girl, if you buy something in a box OPEN IT! when V.C.R.'s were all the rage i had a buddy at work buy one out of a van cheap! when he got home it was a 3 brick V.C.R...yep he caught hell for it.
Nov 17, 2010 1:44AM
that was supposed to be informational? Duh? A ten year old could figure those hints. What a waste of a read.
Nov 17, 2010 4:08AM
We bought a Gucci purse online.Within 3 seconds of opening it,my wife knew it was fake because she researched the brand and had bought items before that.We returned it to the ebay seller,and they sent us our money back,plus about $35 more.I wish I would have remembered their name now because we would have notified someone.If you don't know what to look for,research it first DUH!!!If you are stupid enough to buy a Rolex for $300,sell it to a friend as they may be even stupider and pay more.LOL
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.