Looking for Bargains? Beware of Online Counterfeits

Looking for a bargain online? Beware: many products that appear to be authentic may be counterfeit.

Watch Randy Mac's full report on the NBC4 News at 5 and 6 p.m.

Upland resident Lori Noyes recently found out the hard way when she got an email promising deals on handbags. The email appeared to have been generated by popular designer Michael Kors.

“It said it was a special invitation, only a few hours, so I clicked on it, took a look around, it looked like his site," Noyes told NBC4's I-Team.

Seeing prices listed for less than half what she'd normally pay for a bag, she quickly typed in her credit card, and dropped $200.

“I knew something wasn’t quite right when I didn’t get an instant confirmation email,” Noyes said.

Turns out the email had linked Noyes to a site that wasn't what it seemed.

“I went into the account, saw that they were processing a payment to somebody in China," she said. "I thought wow, Lori, you’re an educated person, you should have known better!"

A few weeks later, she received three cheap-looking fakes.

"The weight of the chain is a dead giveaway," she complained, rattling the hollow-sounding chain. Another sign she'd gotten phony bags: three identical serial number tags were attached to three different models.

But it's not just about designer bags: the number of counterfeit products sold online is skyrocketing.

"Counterfeit razor blades, counterfeit converse tennis shoes, the levis in front of you are fake," said retired police officer Craig Crosby, as he pointed to a table filled with counterfeit products.

Crosby publishes "The Counterfeit Report," a website dedicated to educating consumers about the issue. He told NBC4 that counterfeit sales will reach $1.7 trillion in 2015, and that this criminal enterprise accounts for 10 percent of all goods worldwide.

But the impact can be more than financial -- using a fake product could harm your health.

"Let’s talk about fragrance," Crosby said. "Everyone will recognize the green Polo box. Lab tests done by the FBI (have) come back and found that there are antifreeze, urine, bacteria, cadmium, berilium and arsenic in the counterfeit products."

What makes it even more disturbing: the products Crosby showed the I-Team weren't sold through rogue cyber retailers, like Lori's fake purses.

"We purchase from Amazon, we purchase from eBay," said Crosby. "These are the websites we should have confidence in."

While Amazon and eBay warn their customers about the risk of counterfeit products — and insist they are on the lookout for fake products — according to Crosby, there's only one way to be sure what you're buying online is the real thing.

"You have to go to a manufacturer or go to an authorized retailer in order to get an authentic product," he said.

Lori Noyes says that's her plan, even if it means paying more for a purse next time around.

"If I lost $200, but taught someone else a lesson, I’m happy," Noyes said. "I’m thinking that I’ll be a lot more careful from now on."

Tips on spotting a counterfeit:

  • Poor stitching, crooked labels, more misspelled brand names
  • Overuse of certain words in online description, including "genuine," "real," or "authentic."
  • Flimsy packaging
  • An incredibly low price: as the old saying goes, "if it looks too good to be true, it probably is!"

For more information on how to spot counterfeit goods including office products, sports equipment, pet food, alcohol, tobacco, electronics and more, visit The Counterfeit Report.

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