A recent seizure of an estimated $1 million in counterfeit designer clothes and electronics in Louisiana underscores why you need to be on the lookout for not-so-fabulous fakes.
In a joint operation on May 30, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Louisiana attorney general's office seized more than 3,000 shoes, purses, and others items from a Baton Rogue store that federal authorities said had been warned twice about selling fake goods. Some of the seized items were labeled with the names Nike, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Coach, and Polo.
Counterfeiting is big business, with certain products prime candidates, including artwork, autographed items and other memorabilia, cosmetics and perfumes, computer software, designer clothing, jewelry, music, videos, and sporting goods. You may find them being sold in stores, on online auctions, and by street vendors.
Counterfeit items may not perform or last like their genuine counterparts. They won't be covered by the manufacturer's warranty, and they may not meet safety and environmental regulations. Earlier in June, a New York City council member proposed a city law that could fine people $1,000 or send them to jail for up to a year for knowingly buying counterfeit products.
Here are some tips to avoid becoming a counterfeit product victim:
• Use common sense. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. There has to be some reason why a seller is charging just a fraction of what the product normally costs.
• Do some research. Find out how to distinguish a fake from the real thing. Some manufacturers offer tips on how to avoid or spot fakes, including Coach, UGG, and Microsoft.
• Check out the seller. Resist purchasing designer items from street vendors or at fairs. Be careful when buying from online auctions. You often can find out from the manufacturer's website whether a merchant is an authorized dealer. If it's not and the item is a fake, you'll likely be on your own.
• Use a credit card. If you find out the designer label on that product you purchased is bogus, you can request a chargeback. If you pay with cash, check, or debit card, recovering your money may be difficult or impossible.
For more information about how to spot fakes and what to do if you discover that you bought a counterfeit product, visit STOPfakes.gov and read our story "How to spot counterfeits" from the Consumer Reports Money Adviser.