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How to avoid being ripped off by counterfeit goods this Christmas

Estimated reading time: 4 mins

With Christmas fast approaching we are all looking for those great bargains, but do you know how to spot fake or counterfeit goods?

The goods most likely to be counterfeited include: Luxury designer items like clothes, watches, perfumes and make up Alcohol CDs, DVDs and videogames, Tools and DIY goods.

Fake goods are often sold on internet auction sites, at markets, and in bars. The price (and the quality) will be much lower than that of the genuine item.

How to spot those pesky counterfeit goods

Always keep an eye out for a bargain that seems too good to be true. A fake item passed off as the real thing isn’t a bargain at all. Inspect the item carefully and check its quality – many fakes are badly made. If there are logos and labels, check these as they will never be quite right. If you are buying clothes – look out for poor stitch quality. If buying CDs, DVDs and videogames – the discs will often be DVD-R or CD-R (rather than a properly pressed disc) and have handwritten titles. If buying goods on the Internet, ensure that you know who you’re buying from, especially if you’re buying DVDs, CDs or perfumes and make up. You won’t be able to see the goods before you buy them like you can at a market, so you’ll have no idea of their quality.

The same applies when buying clothing, shoes and handbags – these can all easily by faked.

Things to consider before parting with your hard-earned cash:

Where did the products come from? While not a total guarantee, if products are supplied or sold by a reputable manufacturer or outlet, then the more likely it is that you will have genuine product. Purchasing from car boot sales, street stalls or unauthorised sellers is likely to increase the risk of buying counterfeit and fake goods.

Do the products have a manufacturers name and guarantee? Check to see whether the manufacturer’s name, any relevant trademarks or copyright are shown on the product, packaging or labels. If not, suspect that the product may be a counterfeit and check with the supplier or vendor. With many goods you should expect to receive a guarantee or warranty. If you are in doubt check with the supplier or vendor whether the goods are approved and guaranteed. Look to see whether there are any unusual terms, conditions or disclaimers in the warranty/guarantee and, again, if in doubt check with the manufacturer or vendor.

What does the packaging and labelling look like? Check the spelling of the brand, product or manufacturer’s name. If spelt wrongly suspect that they might be fakes. Check the quality of the printing on the packaging or labels. Poor quality printing, blurred or fuzzy edges, unusual looking colours, wrong type sizes, etc, may indicated that the originals may have been re-scanned or photocopied. Be cautious of changes to designs and packs that have not be highlighted or announced by the manufacturers. Make sure that the packaging or labels carry the usual expected bar codes or manufacturers codes – and the required consumer or safety information.

Do the contents look and smell right? Changes in the expected look and colour of a product or contents, or an unexpected smell or taste to the goods or contents, should arouse your suspicions.

How does the price compare? Goods that are on sale at a substantially lower price than the normal selling price should be suspect – unless they are in a reputable manufacturer’s or vendor’s sale. If it’s too good to be true, it normally is.

So what’s the problem with buying counterfeit goods? Who does it harm?

Many counterfeit goods are of a poor quality but some can also be dangerous – such as perfumes and make up which may cause reactions in the user, or fake tools that haven’t been through the appropriate safety checks. Kid’s toys have been found to contain dangerous components such as metal spikes. We don’t want the little darlin’s get injured by their present from Santa Claus, do we?

Counterfeit goods are often sold by organised criminals and drug dealers, and the proceeds may go towards funding terrorism. Also those that sell fake goods don’t pay taxes and are not contributing to the economy!

You’ll also have no enforceable legal rights against the seller if the items you’ve bought turn out to be faulty. No guarantees. No warranty. No comeback. All you can do is report them as fake and although this could lead to criminal proceedings against the seller it won’t actually help you get your money back.

In the USA, U.S. Code § 2318 (Trafficking in counterfeit labels, illicit labels, or counterfeit documentation or packaging) and  U.S. Code § 2320 (Trafficking in counterfeit goods or services) are laws that describe the offence and penalties of trafficking counterfeit goods.

In the UK, although it is not an offence to buy counterfeit items, the production, selling and possession for sale of such items are offences under the Trade Marks Act 1994. The maximum sentence on conviction is an unlimited fine and/or 10 years imprisonment.

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About the author /


Simon is a creative and passionate business leader dedicated to having fun in the pursuit of high performance and personal development. He is co-founder of Applied Change, a Business Change consultancy based in the UK. Simon is also an Ambassador for Gloucestershire business. Simon is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Professional Development.

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