How to Spot Counterfeit Merchandise

Counterfeiting is a huge business; every year, hundreds of billions of dollars worth of fake designer goods are sold around the world. According to the World Trade Organization, counterfeit goods accounted for an estimated $456 billion, or 7 percent of global trade in 2003. In New York City alone, the total value of fakes sold each year exceeds $23 billion.

Designer purses, shoes, jeans and jewelry are among the most commonly faked items, but the list doesn't stop there: sunglasses, porcelain figurines, even golf clubs are knocked-off by manufacturers in the U.S. and overseas.

eBay prohibits the sale of counterfeit goods, yet many of these goods still turn up on its site. To stem the tide, eBay maintains the Verified Rights' Owner (VeRO) program and has established stiff penalties for sellers who offer fake goods. Auction cancellation, account suspension, and loss of PowerSeller status aren't the only risks a seller faces; they may also be sued by the copyright or trademark owner.

As an eBay seller, you are required to sell only authentic merchandise. Therefore it's essential that you thoroughly examine and authenticate any item you accept from a client. These steps can help you spot a fake:

1.  Ask when and where the item was purchased

This information might help you research the item. You may even want to include some of the information in your listing ("This purse was purchased five years ago at the Chanel boutique in London.") Ask if they still have the receipt; some eBay sellers include receipts (with personal information blacked out) in their listings as proof of authenticity.

You should still examine the item even if your client can tell you exactly when and where it was purchased. If they don't remember where they bought it, or claim it was a gift, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a fake, but you should be extra cautious if they bought it on eBay.

If they bought it on the street, at a flea market or a "purse party", it's almost certainly counterfeit and should not be accepted.

2. Examine the item's quality

Look inside all pockets and compartments and make note of the following:

  • Material: real leather feels soft and supple, not stiff or plastic-y. Even old leather, if cared for properly, will still feel nice.
  • Construction: The item should feel solid and well-crafted, not flimsy. Everything should look neat and finished, no blobs of dried glue or other signs of sloppiness!
  • Stitching should be straight and even (all stitches the same size), and there shouldn't be any loose threads.
  • Patterns should match up across seams.
  • Linings inside purses should be made of quality fabric like suede, heavy satin or durable cotton, not plastic or cheap polyester.
  • Watches and gold jewelry should feel substantial, not lightweight.
  • Hardware and trim: metal should not be tarnished, corroded, or flaking off.
  • Printing, logos and other marks should be straight and clear; if the ink is smeared or double-stamped, reject the item.

Luxury goods always use high-quality materials and have excellent craftsmanship. High-quality materials will age more gracefully than cheap materials.

Compare the item to the real thing by looking at the manufacturer's website or a trustworthy retailer like bluefly.com, eluxury.com or Neiman Marcus. Note any differences in the shape, size, materials, hardware, and so on.

3. Look at tags, labels, logos, etc.

Look inside and outside for tags, labels, embossed logos and country of origin tags ("Made in ___"). If these are blurry, crooked, off-center, or have typos, the item is fake. If the item doesn't have any labels or markings, it's probably fake.

Luxury goods are manufactured all over the world, so a "Made in China" tag doesn't automatically mean the item is fake. If the country of origin isn't marked anywhere, though, it's probably fake.

4. Look for a serial number

  • Many, though not all, luxury purses and watches have serial numbers. If you see any numbers or codes on the item, include them in your listing.
  • If you don't see a number and the item is supposed to have one it's probably fake. Some counterfeit goods have serial numbers, though, so the number isn't proof that it's genuine.
  • Serial numbers appear in many different places: on tags or stickers inside purse pockets, stamped on the underside of a strap or key ring, inscribed on the back or inside of a watch. You may have to hunt to find the number, so examine the item under good lighting and have a magnifying glass ready.
  • Never try to remove a watch back yourself, because you may damage the watch. Instead, suggest to your client that they take it to a qualified jeweler or watch repair shop to be authenticated.

5. Look for the accessories

  • Designer purses often have a dust bag or sleeper bag (a soft cloth bag used for storage).
  • Expensive watches and jewelry always come with presentation boxes (leather or plastic boxes with hinged lids, often lined in velvet).
  • And nearly all of these items are sold with literature--small booklets that describe the item, how to care for it, other items in the same line, the company's history, etc. Look inside the pockets for these items.

These things can all help you establish authenticity. The customer might not have these things anymore, so a watch without a box isn't necessarily fake, but you should always ask if they have the original box, bag, instructions, etc.

Tips

  • If you determine an item is counterfeit, don't list it. Even if you only think it's fake, you're better off not accepting it; the risks of selling a counterfeit item are just too great.
  • If you have to return an item because you think it might be fake, be professional. Don't accuse them of trying to deceive you; they may not have known the item was fake, so be prepared to explain your reasons.

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