7 Signs You Are Buying a Counterfeit Product

You love the finer things in life -- designer clothing, precious jewelry and top-of-the-line electronics -- but can't really afford them at retail price.

(Image credit: iStockphoto)

You love the finer things in life -- designer clothing, precious jewelry and top-of-the-line electronics -- but can't really afford them at retail price. So you take to the internet or pound the pavement in a sketchy downtown shopping district in search of deep discounts. You, dear reader, are a counterfeit merchant's dream come true.

The counterfeit market is big business for scammers looking to take advantage of consumers by selling low-cost, low-quality replicas of luxury goods and brand-name products. Last year, the number of counterfeit seizures by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) totaled 31,560 -- up 9% from 28,865 in 2015. The most popular product categories on the CBP's seizure list include apparel and accessories, electronics, footwear, watches and jewelry, and handbags. The total estimated manufacturer's suggested retail price for those items (if they were authentic) was $1.4 billion, according to the CBP.

Consumers who get duped by counterfeit goods aren't simply left holding a fake bag. You also expose yourself to identity theft by unscrupulous merchants now armed with your credit-card numbers and other personal information. Perhaps even worse, you risk allergic reactions to the unorthodox ingredients -- such as urine (in fragrances) and high levels of aluminum (in makeup) -- often used in counterfeit beauty products, warns Bob Barchiesi, president of the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition (opens in new tab), a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit organization that helps combat product counterfeiting and piracy.

We spoke with several experts about how to detect a fake product before buying it -- and possibly losing a couple hundred dollars in the process. Here are seven signs you're buying a counterfeit:

Andrea Browne Taylor
Online Editor, Kiplinger.com
Browne Taylor joined Kiplinger in 2011 and is a channel editor for Kiplinger.com covering living and family finance topics. She previously worked at the Washington Post as a Web producer in the Style section and prior to that covered the Jobs, Cars and Real Estate sections. She earned a BA in journalism from Howard University in Washington, D.C.