High Fashion at Low Prices? BBB Advice on Avoiding Counterfeit Luxury Goods Online

July 01, 2008

The market for counterfeit luxury items is wide and deep, with everything from jewelry and perfume to handbags and sunglasses being sold. While busts like the January seizure of more than $1 million in knock-off fashion accessories in New York City make headlines, counterfeit luxury items are sold on streets all across the U.S. Now though, counterfeiters are well-established online too. For bargain-hunters looking for name-brand items at discount prices online, Better Business Bureau offers advice on avoiding Web-based rip-off schemes.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, counterfeit products cost the U.S. economy between $200 billion and $250 billion each year. Online classified sites like Craigslist or eBay are hot spots for counterfeit luxury item fraud online, and both offer “buyer beware” warnings. But venders are now setting up their own Web sites to fool frugal fashionistas. A recent Forrester Research Inc. report notes that only one-third of luxury brands actually sell their products online, but if not careful, consumers can easily be fooled by scam sites bearing some of the best-known luxury labels, including Prada, Fendi, Coach, Rolex, Tiffany, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry and Calvin Klein.

“With the economy slowing down, consumers are looking for bargains and unfortunately, truly unbelievable deals on luxury items are advertised all over the Internet,” said Steve Cox, BBB spokesperson. “In many cases, what looks like a great deal for a genuine Louis Vuitton handbag turns out to be a too-good-to-be-true shoddy knock-off.”

In 2007, eBay removed 2.2 million listings of counterfeit items and suspended 50,000 members for selling counterfeit luxury goods. Despite nearly $8 billion in revenue and status as the world’s leading online auction site, eBay is by no means the only place consumers need to be on the lookout for knock-off fashion being touted as genuine. BBB has heard complaints from thousands of consumers after they spent hundreds of dollars or more on Web sites they thought were offering authentic luxury brands at deep discounts.

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 fake:

Shopping Safely Online
• The number one way to avoid getting ripped off when buying luxury goods is to deal with reputable companies. When in doubt, shoppers can contact the manufacturer and verify which venders are authorized sellers. Consumers should also check out the business with BBB at www.bbb.org before making a purchasing decision.
• 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 $500 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.”

How to Spot a Fake: It’s in the Details
• 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, and in some cases authenticity cards with holograms.
• 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 Web site 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.

Report a fake
Consumers who have purchased counterfeit luxury goods should contact BBB and can easily file complaints online at www.bbb.org. Consumers can also contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission at www.cpsc.gov and file a complaint online there as well.

For more BBB advice on how to identify trustworthy places to shop, go to www.bbb.org.