7 Common Counterfeits – and How to Avoid Getting Burned

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Some counterfeit products cost thousands (like Rolexes), and some are free (like coupons). But all of them can cost you time and money. Here's how to spot the fakes.

Saving money is a laudable goal, but not when it means taking money out of someone else’s pocket. Counterfeit products have been around for some time, but the rapid rise of e-retail means car trunks and curbside venues aren’t the only method of distribution.

Knock-off products annually cost our global economy roughly $600 billion in legitimate revenue. That’s roughly the price of 250 million Birkin Bags. According to OpSec Security, a brand-protection firm, counterfeits are “directly responsible for the loss of more than 750,000 American jobs. On an individual level, a counterfeit T-shirt for one’s favorite sports team, for example, is not a keepsake if it contains a typo, shrinks when you put it in the laundry, or worse, falls apart.”

But bags, jeans, and music aren’t the only items being copied illegally. Fake coupons are also showing up in larger numbers, thanks once again to the ease of Internet distribution. While there are many reputable websites offering valid printable coupons for free, coupon fraud costs industries tens of millions of dollars each year.

Read on for a guide to identifying and avoiding seven counterfeit products.

1. Coupons

In January 2008, Nestlé Purina Petcare Co. issued 250 coupons for a free bag of dog food. By May 5, almost 2,800 coupons were redeemed for the product. While getting something for free is all well and good, using a falsified coupon is illegal, so avoid being caught by watching out for…

  • no redemption date
  • too good a deal
  • longer-than-normal expiration dates
  • a smudged UPC code with more or less than 12 numbers

Also be suspicious if the provider wants you to pay upfront fees.

2. Gem stones

While imitation diamonds are an attractive alternative to the high prices of the real thing, you don’t want to present your fiance with a ring – only to find out it’s a fake.

Look for certification from the American Gem Society Laboratories or the Gemological Institute of America and learn about their service programs. Gordon’s Jewelers, for example, provides a lifetime guarantee and offers coupon codes throughout the year. You’ll also want to read customer reviews and research return policies. In addition, beware of “composite” stones, which are usually several gems smushed together. Watch for excessively creative names, like American ruby (actually a garnet) or Australian jade (a quartz).

3. UGGs (the boots)

Imitation UGGly boots sell more units than the legitimate versions, which is no doubt why UGG Australia posted a counterfeit education page on their website. It’s difficult to tell the difference, so the official site also provides a list of authorized retail and online merchants, along with pictures of fake boots.

4. Rolex watches

The flat fact is you can’t buy a real Rolex from a blanket spread on the curb of a busy street. While the fake may look superficially real, you can identify the true brand by its multi-colored movement, precision engraving, and authentic logo. Check out this Texas watch dealer’s list of tell-tale signs.

5. Sunglasses

Because Americans lose shades more frequently than they post Facebook updates, you’ll find them just about anywhere. Locating authentic Ray-Bans or Oakleys, however, is another matter. You just can’t pick up these primo sunglasses at 7-Eleven. Instead, find online coupon codes for a direct brand like Fossil, or shop at reputable eyeglass stores. You’ll pay a premium but the shades will last longer and include quality UVC protection.

To identify counterfeits, visit the brand’s official website and research where the sunglasses were made. Most high-end brands feature a “made in” label somewhere on the packaging or frames.

6. Purses

Coach bags made the WalletPop.com list of “five most-counterfeited brands online.” That’s an honor I’m sure the Coach creators could do without. Louis Vuitton is another frequently copied brand. The astronomically expensive (and highly desired) Birkin bags also come in for their fair share of attention. For a guide to separating real bags from the fake, fake, fake, check out this eBay guide.

7. Sports jerseys

Fans snap up unauthorized jerseys because the authentic versions can cost as much as a ticket to an NFL game. Still, why would you want to rip off your favorite team? If you support them every week with cheers and beers, then it’s time to fork over the honest cash.

Remember, only league-licensed apparel is legal to sell and buy. Plus, the quality is much better than the counterfeit versions, so the fakes are easy to spot.

Andrea Woroch is a consumer and money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc. Visit AndreaWoroch.com or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Stacy Johnson

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