February 2022 | by Lili & Felix
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The rise of global online commerce brought along a few unwelcome side effects. One of the most dangerous of these is the increasing amount of counterfeit products flooding the markets. According to the OECD’s research, counterfeit goods constitute 3.3% of all global trade, with an annual value of $1.82 trillion and counting.
Due to the global coronavirus crisis and the resulting rise in e-Commerce, many more people shop online and are exposed to the risk of buying fake products. In some cases, that’s just annoying. In others, using a fake product may result in serious problems, like health risks and potential accidents.
Sometimes, it’s easy to tell if a product is counterfeit, even before buying it. This is where your common sense can help you. At other times, you’d need insider tips from an online brand protection expert to know what you’re dealing with. If you don’t happen to be best friends with one of those guys, you’re in luck: our very own Felix is about to share his tips with us.
Read on to find out how to identify fake products.
Counterfeiters love to get people’s attention with unrealistic prices. Suspiciously cheap or heavily discounted products, whatever they are, should always raise red flags. After all, can a real silver ring cost 2.26 euros (down by 52% from a whopping 4.72 euros)?
Screenshot of a fake silver ring on AliExpress
A second telltale sign may be the source of the product. The majority of counterfeit goods come from Asia with China and Hong Kong taking the lead, so if your chosen goods originate there, be wary. (We’re not saying that all Asian goods are fakes, but the majority of fake products come from Asia.)
Similarly, the product coming from an unexpected destination could be a red flag. For example, would you expect to buy Michael Kors handbags from the US or Turkey? Obviously, there may be authorized sellers in any country. However, if you’re shopping from one country (say, the US), it’s unlikely that you’d stumble upon an authorized, legitimate seller from Turkey who happens to offer the very same original handbag for half the price (international shipping included).
Image of authentic and counterfeit packaging of perfume
Proper packaging costs a significant amount of money, and counterfeiters often forego this expense. Therefore, if your products arrive in unprofessional, inadequate packaging, it’s quite likely that you’re dealing with a counterfeit.
This image shows the difference between authentic and counterfeit packaging. The quality of the cardboard and discrepancies in the colour pattern clearly indicate that the packaging on the right is counterfeit.
Who wouldn’t want a pair of original Nike shoes? But how about Nikee? Or Niek? Counterfeiters often try to fool their customers by using a well-known brand’s name and imagery with just a bit of a spelling mistake to suggest they’re different. If customers don’t notice that they’re buying Nikee insead of Nike, that’s not the seller’s fault (at least, that’s what they’re trying to suggest).
There are so-called “trashy marketplaces” that are more likely to sell fakes than others. For example, Wish, Shopee, or AliExpress may offer a larger amount of counterfeit goods than other, more established marketplaces.
If you’re ordering from an unfamiliar website, run the domain through our partner Scamadviser first to make sure that you’re not giving your personal data (including credit card details) to scammers.
There’s only so much you can do as a layperson. However, trained online brand protection experts recognize other, smaller clues that help them distinguish a fake product from the real deal. After all, that’s what long years of training and experience prepare them for.
While we can’t turn you into a brand protection expert overnight, we can certainly give you a little insight into our work and share a few pro tips about recognizing fake products.
Felix, Head of Operations at globaleyez has a very good eye for fakes. He can often tell from just looking at a listing (even a seemingly authentic one) if it’s fake or not. Read on for a little taste of his work.
Online shoppers are at a disadvantage when it comes to determining whether a product is genuine. After all, they can’t get a feel of the location where the product is sold, can’t touch the materials, look at serial numbers, and search for brand logos. However, you can look for small, telltale signs that can show you whether an online shop is trying to fool you into buying fakes.
Check if the website or store page contains any kind of contact data including address, telephone number, or e-mail address. Seasoned scammers definitely use fake or stolen identities but those that just want to make a quick buck won’t bother. They’re a lot more likely to do the bare minimum to enable consumers to buy (establish a payment gateway, have a fancy product description and, of course, very low prices).
Try calling the seller prior to the purchase to see whether the number is operated by the shop owner/service staff. If your grandma answers the call it is likely that the shop operator uses stolen contact data. In a further step you can try to access business networks like LinkedIn for instance to see whether the company has any employees.
Check online the average price of the product. Is it far higher everywhere else and nobody offers discounts? Then it’s likely that yours is a fraudulent seller trying to fool you. In addition to this you can check other items on the website. Are all items discounted? That’s a definite warning sign! Do discounts exceed 50% or even 60%? An even bigger warning sign!
Official sellers often display OEM/SKU numbers associated with the product. Does your seller supply these? Then it’s a good sign (although some counterfeiters might have gone the extra-mile as well, copying the OEM numbers from original sellers).
Does the seller offer further services for the customers? Fitting tables, 360° view of items, many pictures of the product, or even a newsletter?
Sellers that do provide more than the fastest path to a check-out and establish services that go beyond driving sales are more likely to be legit. This behaviour shows that the shop aims for recurring customers and a good shopping experience, a thing that malicious sellers will not do as they know that customers won’t come back due to the poor quality of their products.
Have a look at customer portals where previous customers share their experience regarding the quality of the products, shipping times, support, etc. Portals like Scamadviser, Mimikama, Trustpilot or trusted shops can let you know about potential risks. There are even several providers (e.g. authorized.by) that have developed techniques to verify legitimate shops.
How is the shop set up? Does its design correspond to the image of the brands whose products it’s selling? A useful hint: real luxury shops don’t often use Shopify or similar “borrowed” systems.
Furthermore, check the reference links on the store and click on the Facebook/Twitter/… logo that is shown. In our experience, many sellers either haven’t linked anything or just redirect to the default page of their chosen platforms, not to their own social media accounts.
Visualisation of reference link to default page of Facebook
In addition, get a feel for the user experience. How convenient is it to navigate around the site? Do the payment options work or do you get errors during the payment process? Does the seller supply all of the payment means whose images are shown on the webshop?
More often than not, fraudulent sellers include the PayPal, Western Union and/or MasterCard logos but when getting to the checkout page you can only select Visa, for instance.
Does the seller provide more shops on other marketplaces or standalone webshops? Try googling the company name, VAT ID or whatever you found and see where else they are active. Sellers that appear in shady classifieds or on wholesale marketplaces as well should make you suspicious.
Additionally, have a look at their wording. Do they translate their offers when listing in different countries (and if they do, are these machine translations with many mistakes) or do they simply copy the same text over and over, not caring who the audience is?
Check with a verified supplier or even the brand if they indeed produce that item. Interestingly, many counterfeiters create their own branded items that do not relate to any legitimate product.
For example, AUDI does not produce any “gap fillers” for the front seat or LED hubcaps that will get brighter the faster you drive. Nevertheless, several counterfeiters offer these online.
Screenshot of fake Audi gap filler
How long does shipping take, and does this match the item and company location? For example, if you’re in Germany and shop on an Italian website with an Italian company as an operator, the shipping should not take 30 days (except for custom-made items like jewelry with personalized engraving).
This may either hint to the fact that the seller operates from somewhere else or that they work as dropshippers. On Amazon or eBay item location or shipping origin will be shown. If this differs from the claimed seller location: Be cautious!
If you are looking for limited or exclusive items, this is a strong indicator, but it might apply for all purchases in general. Take the time and try to add the product you want to buy 127,345-times into the cart. Can you do this, despite the seller claiming the item is limited and only a hundred pieces exist? Well, your extra time paid off and you avoided being fooled.
Does the seller show terms and conditions on their website? And do they contain the regular and legitimate clauses? If not, be aware. Even if it’s not a fake shop, you might have to pay for the returns or have no exchange options at all.
Check out the Whois data of the shop. Learn who the operator is and when the shop has been registered. If it’s brand new and operated by a suspicious entity: steer clear of this shop.
Screenshot of WHOIS data of globaleyez.net
If the website contains contact data, check online business registers whether you can find the company there and whether they are registered for the trade with that class of the goods that they offer online.
What do the images look like? Have they been taken in private surroundings? Are they professionally edited? Can you zoom-in and rotate images? Did the seller blur logos or put “decoration” over the parts where logos should be? Can you see tags in the necks of garments? These are all telltale signs that you’re dealing with fake products.
Some sellers provide “lifetime versions” of various well-known software. However, many authentic providers like Netflix, Adobe, Sky Sports, etc. are not interested in a one-off payment but base their business model on subscriptions.
If somebody offers lifetime versions of software like these, it’s either a crack, it uses a brand vulnerability, or will not deliver anything at all. Stay away and do not buy lifetime versions: you may regret it your whole life.
If you’re not sure whether the shop is selling original items, get yourself extra protection and try to select a payment method where you can pay AFTER receiving the items. Cash on delivery is fine if you can check the content immediately when receiving.
Paying via invoice is great as well and PayPal has several regulations in place to avoid scams (beware, though: don’t use the option “friends & family” even if sellers try to push you).
Do the listings show rapidly decreasing stock numbers? Do banners with “be quick, limited stock” etc. flash on your screen? This may be a sign that the seller wants to put you in a hurry and make you forget about double-checking whether they’re legit and sell counterfeit items or not.
Are there any legal requirements the product has to comply with? For example, electronic devices need a WEEE in the EU, while drugs and some health supplements need a package insert with dosing instruction in many countries.
In addition, books sold in Germany are fixed to a specific price (if not used or damaged), and several pharmaceutical products need to display special codes on their surface/packaging. If these are not included: stay safe, stay away!
Is the shop brand new? And if yes, does this match the store description? Many fake sellers open up new stores and claim that they are a family-run business in operation for more than 20 years.
It’s also a bad sign if they claim they have many satisfied customers but their customer ratings only include a few rare reviews (that are generic and look like they’ve been mass-produced or even stolen from other sites). If that’s the case: leave the site without buying a thing.
Even if the shop passed all the tests and you purchased the product, you could be in for a nasty surprise. Use the following tips to see if you’ve received an authentic product.
Does the shipping label include a consignor? If not, that’s a bad sign: real stores and entities are not afraid to show their name.
Image of authentic Rolex watch
How is the product packaged? A Rolex watch will not come wrapped in old newspapers. The box/wrapping should contain the logo of the brand in most cases and match regular packaging standards.
What is the product made of? Is it supposed to be made of that material or something else? Counterfeit chromed car parts, for instance, show big differences to the original products, because counterfeiters often substitute metal parts with cheap plastic.
If you bought golden or silver products, check the quality of the material. If you are not able to recognize it yourself you may go to your local jewelry store and let them do the checks.
In case of apparel, the size of the arriving product can give you a useful hint. Since most counterfeit products originate from Asia, the actual size of clothing may differ a lot from what you’re used to (and what you’ve ordered). Shoes too small? Garments too big? Size M and XL shirts are exactly the same? Not good signs.
Furthermore, check if the product has all the features, like washing instruction tags for apparel. How are the parts attached to each other? Counterfeiters usually don’t bother with quality and that’s easiest to spot where parts of a product are attached, e.g. stitching or glueing.
If the seller states within his store guidelines that he will enclose a returns label in the package, you should definitely get one. Fake sellers rarely accept returns at all, and paying for them doesn’t even cross their mind. If your returns label is missing, that’s a worrying sign.
Does the product have a weird smell? Its components are probably cheap substitutes. Don’t put your health at risk: cut your losses and move on.
Counterfeits cause a lot of problems for customers. And even more for brands. The loss of revenue, image, and credibility are just a few of the negative effects counterfeiters can have for a brand. If you want to protect your brand from counterfeiters, grey marketers, and copyright infringers, reach out to us and find out how we can help you.