10 Ways to Spot a Knockoff

The counterfeit goods business is a big problem, so big that it's valued at $461 billion as of 2013. Knockoffs are everywhere, and can be found in almost every product line. It's not just watches and purses, but razor blades, laundry detergent, cosmetics, toys, medications, and even fish, wine, and milk. And counterfeiters are getting more sophisticated with their copies. So, how do you protect yourself? Here are 10 ways to avoid getting taken.

1. The price is too good to be true

You can argue that some brands are way overpriced (Kanye West really does sell a plain white T-shirt for $120). The price of any legitimate product you purchase goes way beyond the cost of materials. You're paying for fancy ad campaigns, design and research costs, quality materials, and many other factors. Knockoff brands don't have to incorporate any of that, so although they look almost identical, they can be priced at 75 percent less than the original, and that should be an immediate red flag. (See also: The High Cost of Cheap Clothes)

2. It's not available from the original retailers

Retail stores and trusted online sites go to great lengths to keep fakes out of the system. They also have the power to help authorities track down the suppliers of knockoffs. If you see incredible prices online for brands you know to be much more expensive, they will be on unfamiliar, sketchy-looking sites.

If someone is selling these items on the streets of your town or city, that's also a major warning sign. Not only will you be risking more than just the purchase of a fake brand, but you have no way to return the illegal purchase. Even eBay has had trouble with knockoffs, and will often have to remove sellers when they find out the items are counterfeit.

3. You find mistakes and typos

Knockoff products do not go through the rigorous quality controls that legal items must endure. It's extremely rare to find errors on legitimate products, and those that do have them are usually marked down and sold in outlets. If you see spelling errors, especially in logos, then it's a fake. If you see highly visible typos (not something buried in legal verbiage), then it's almost certainly fake. If you notice that the color combinations are way out of character for the brand, then it's most likely a knockoff.

4. The materials look and feel wrong

If you examine the product and it feels off, it's good to trust your gut. It could be way lighter than you expect it to be, or not as smooth and luxurious as you'd hoped. Knockoff brands cut corners, using man-made materials in place of leather or suede, steel instead of silver and gold, and cheap alternatives to quality supplies. If it just feels wrong when you handle it, you should walk away. (See also: 4 Ways to Spot and Avoid a Fake Sale)

5. The workmanship is way below par

From a distance, fakes can be difficult to spot. However, if you get up close, you should be able to see some of the poor quality workmanship. For example, on clothing and bags, you will come across inferior stitching, misaligned labels, overprinting, collar tags instead of tagless labels, and uneven embossing. Authentic products are well-made because a brand's reputation is everything. With knockoffs, it's just about profit margins.

6. The description goes overboard on "authenticity"

Real products don't usually have to point out that they're authentic. Fake products, on the other hand, are promoted with language that sounds desperate to convince you that they're the real deal. You'll see phrases like "100 percent authentic," "no cheap knockoffs," and "verified genuine." Any kind of description littered with these words is akin to a serial cheater telling you they are totally, completely, 100 percent trustworthy. Yeah, sure.

7. Smell and color can be major red flags

You may think, what's the harm? when buying a knockoff perfume, if it looks and smells the same. Well, keep in mind that shortcuts to make the product cheaper might include using ingredients like antifreeze and urine. Yes, pee has been used in the production of counterfeit perfume. Imagine what that could do to your skin.

The other biggest indicator, other than price and smell, is color. Genuine perfumes do not use a lot of dye in the formulation. Also, the bottle will be a little misshapen, or the glass could be cloudy.

8. The packaging is off

Sneakers, for example, can go for thousands of dollars, especially the limited editions. If you spy a pair that you really want, carefully inspect the box first. Look up genuine sneaker box packaging on your phone and look for shoe size placement, logos, and the color of the box. The fakes will be a little off, and the printing won't be as sharp. Look inside for the correct labels. Everything should match with the box. Look at the stitching. It will be perfect on a genuine sneaker.

Take a whiff, too. It should smell fresh and new, not like chemicals or "gluey."

9. Use magnets and your breath to check jewelry

When it comes to precious metals, your secret weapon here is a magnet. Gold and silver are not magnetic, so if the solid gold chain sticks to the magnet, it's either gold plated or simply gold colored metal.

With diamonds, breathe on them. A genuine diamond does not retain heat so it will not fog up. A fake one will go cloudy. Also, look for hallmarks on jewelry. Most counterfeiters cannot be bothered to stamp them.

10. Test out electronics before buying

Fake electronics can look identical to the real deal, but the internal components are miles away from the quality of the originals. First, turn it on (if you can). When you fire up a new tech gadget, it should work perfectly. You shouldn't have issues with flickering, loading, or anything else.

Look for misspellings, especially in the places most people don't look (the serial number panels, inside the battery compartment, and so on). Also, make sure the packaging and the item are on-brand. Apple is very clean, sleek, and simple. If your packaging is busy, it's not Apple. Most genuine electronics have a certification mark and a hologram — these are almost impossible to fake. And again, look at the price. An offer of $250 for a new iPhone? Yeah, that's clearly counterfeit.

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