How Can You Avoid Buying Fake Items Online?

Matt Shelly
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The Internet takes the pain out of shopping, making it easy to find your favorite products at the best prices. Unfortunately, online shopping also makes it more difficult to spot fake merchandise. Without the option to inspect items in person, you must be on the alert for common signs of counterfeit goods.

In 2014, reputable online retailers including Amazon and eBay have been plagued with fake merchandise, resulting in a serious customer service problem. Many shoppers assume that they can avoid buying counterfeit goods by sticking to highly rated sellers or buying directly from Amazon. According to Market Watch, Amazon's problem stems from the way it manages its inventory. In the Amazon warehouse, merchandise from third-party sellers is co-mingled with merchandise from Amazon. When an order comes in, an Amazon representative will grab any item with a matching bar code without checking its origin. For Amazon shoppers, the easiest way to avoid buying fake merchandise is to opt out of the co-mingling program.

When you are shopping online, price is one of the biggest indicators of fake goods. Look out for prices that are outrageously reasonable, particularly for new goods or products that tend to retain their value. (For example, an in-season Louis Vuitton bag priced at $100 is almost certainly a fake.) The U.S. Department of Commerce also advises that you look out for missing sales tax, which can be a sign that a retailer is operating outside of the law.

Anyone with access to the Internet can set up a fake selling account, but it takes far more effort to craft a positive online reputation. One of the most important steps in spotting fake merchandise is to research the seller. Examine the company's website for spelling errors—many sellers pushing fake goods are based overseas. Verify the phone number and address and check out reviews. Do a quick search for the seller's name or Internet handle plus "reviews" and look for mentions of fake goods; even one negative review can be a sign of trouble. When you are purchasing expensive goods, it is almost always best to go with an established, recognized and authorized retailer.

When you are online shopping, it is impossible to physically examine each item. Instead, scrutinize the photos and look for red flags. Compare the photos to similar photos from the original manufacturer. Look for changes in the packaging, construction, logo and overall appearance. If you are buying clothing or handbags, pay special attention to the stitching, the color of the fabric and the hardware. For very large purchases, find an online retailer that also has a physical showroom.

Intuition is one of your most important tools for avoiding purchases of fake merchandise. If something feels off about the process, trust your gut and move on.

Once you know how to spot the signs of fake merchandise, you'll automatically be on the lookout. By avoiding unsavory online retailers, you can stop supporting counterfeiters and save money in the process.


(Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti /


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