The market for counterfeit luxury items is wide and deep, covering everything from jewelry and perfume to handbags and sunglasses. Bargain-hunters should check out the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota’s (BBB) advice on avoiding web-based rip-off schemes before looking online for name-brand items at discount prices.
According to a report by the Department of Homeland Security, the total domestic value of merchandise seized during fiscal 2011 was $78.3 million; an amount that would have had a value of $1.11 billion had it been legitimate.
Online classified sites like craigslist or eBay are hot spots for counterfeit luxury item fraud, and both offer “buyer beware” warnings. But vendors are now setting up their own websites to fool frugal shoppers.
The BBB offers the following tips for shopping safely online when looking for deals on designer goods, as well as pointers on how to spot a fake:
Always deal with reputable businesses. The best way to avoid getting ripped off when buying luxury goods is to deal only 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 BBB at www.bbb.org/search 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 tag. Extremely low prices are tempting but not to be believed. Paying $100 for a $1000 purse usually results in the consumer receiving poorly constructed – and worthless – goods.
Read between the lines. Some websites 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 should contact the BBB and can easily file complaints online at www.bbb.org/complain. Consumers can also contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission at www.cpsc.gov and file a complaint online there as well.
For more consumer tips you can trust, visit www.bbb.org/us/bbb-news.
The mission of the Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. Our hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at www.bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222. Visit our Centennial website at bbbis100.org.