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Don’t fall foul of fakes

Fake stamp

From dodgy designer bags to shady sunglasses, counterfeiters are turning away from market stalls to online auction sites to sell their phony products. Would you be able to spot a fake product online?

According to the 2012/13 Intellectual Property Office Annual Report, around seven million people visit sites offering illegal content in the UK each and every month.

One of my friends has a beautiful Mulberry bag. It has the bold gold clasp, the plaited handle and the signature satchel style. The only problem; it’s a fake. She also admitted to me that the zipper handle on her last fake Mulberry bag had fallen off after just over a year.

The darker side to fakery

There is a darker side to fake goods as well, particularly in relation to fake electrical products. Products that have been purchased directly from non-EU manufacturers often bypass the normal safety checks with a UK wholesaler, and some electrical products could cause a fire or electrocution.

Apple recently began a worldwide programme to replace third party and counterfeit USB chargers due to ‘safety issues’. Apple says it will replace third-party chargers for an official one for $10 or the equivalent. This follows news that a Chinese woman was electrocuted and killed by a non-Apple charger.

Finding out the fakes

Fakes are increasingly being sold online, either through impressive looking online ‘shops’ selling products directly at discounted prices – or advertised through social media or auction sites. They can be difficult to spot as well – as our gallery shows.

One easy way to spot a fake is that they’re cheaper than you’d expect them do. However, the tricky bit is that getting a deal below the retail price is the very nature of an auction site! There are still a number of tips for spotting fake goods online – such as always looking at the product and seller’s feedback on auction sites.

Which? Conversation contributor Ron told us about his fake Sennheiser headphones:

‘I complained to Amazon customer services who advised me to contact the seller direct. I did and had my money reimbursed after returning the product. The seller was new to Amazon market and by this stage had accumulated a number of complaints. He is no longer listed on Amazon market.’

If you’ve fallen foul of fakery, you should report it directly to the seller as well as reporting it to Trading Standards.

Have you bought a fake product, deliberately or accidentally? Did you try to return it and what happened when you did? Is there anything you would buy a fake of – and what would you definitely avoid?


My favourite….
I was looking for a camera battery.
Looking at an auction on ebay titled “Genuine Nikon Ion Battery”, I checked the picture and ION was spelt IOM on the battery !!!!!!!

Went to a local camera store and ordered one instead.


I do not understand Apple’s philanthropic gesture of replacing potentially dangerous fake chargers. I doubt if Rolex will make a similar offer.


But what their gesture does show, is that they’ve probably been overcharging for the genuine one, if they can suddenly start selling them for $10. I wonder how many people will now buy a fake for $1 knowing they can save over the price of a genuine one just by doing the exchange,


Of the two problems highlighted here – [1] people are being diddled, and [2] there is a risk to health, or safety, or both – I feel the second is by far the more important and should attract more attention from trading standards/consumer protection. As we know from other Which? Conversations, perfectly legitimate traders with impressive and powerful websites are selling non-compliant electrical connectors, both directly and indirectly [through other traders under their umbrella], and not doing much to stop it. A lot of people knowingly buy fake products, probably because they cannot afford the real thing. After all if a handbag looks like a Mulberry, functions like a Mulberry, and gives a few months’ service like any other handbag, that might be good enough; the fact that it hasn’t cost as much as a Mulberry is a bonus [even though the selling price is still a rip-off because the quality of material and manufacture is shoddy]. Same with a fake Rolex watch. I know someone who bought one on holiday in Greece; it looked more-or-less like a Rolex and told the time for a few months but no reputable jeweller would repair it or fit a new battery. None of that mattered – it looked smart enough to impress and nobody else would have been rude enough to question its provenance. In terms of product quality, buying on-line carries the same risks as the old-fashioned mail order. If you can’t examine the goods before purchase you know you are taking a risk. The added complication these days is the almost complete lack of protection when things go wrong. For mail order, suppliers needed to advertise through magazines and newspapers; once the publishers started receiving complaints about particular traders or products the advertising was terminated. The on-line open market place is a free-for-all on a global scale where any dodgy dealer can set up their stall and con the gullible. Other than much better consumer education, it’s difficult to see what can effectively be done to control it.


I’ve been sold counterfeit medicine by a pharmacy

And once, I went to an official Canon shop to buy a camera battery, and they sold me a fake one which was defective

Scott says:
13 August 2013

fl – How do you know that the medicine you were sold was counterfeit and not a genuine generic version of a product whose patent has now expired?


I agree – I think this is a pretty big problem, especially with electricals. I would be very wary of buying these on sites like eBay or Amazon as it can be difficult to tell the real thing from a fake.

My mum has fallen victim to this unwittingly several times. She bought Disney DVDs (from eBay and Amazon) as presents thinking they were genuine, and it was only when we saw them / tried them out that we spotted a couple of signs they weren’t the real deal. She couldn’t tell at all (they were pretty convincing copies). This is not as worrying as unsafe electricals obviously, but it was distressing for her, disappointing for the intended recipients, and impossible to get a refund.

I think the difference is that in ‘the old days’ people were usually more aware they were buying a fake. On the internet it is much bigger scale and much harder to tell genuine from fake. As John Ward says, when it is a reputable online brand (e.g. Amazon or eBay) people tend to assume they can trust any traders on the marketplace as legitimate, but this isn’t the case.


I tend to avoid online marketplaces offered by amazon, play, ebay etc unless its a trader with a normal retail presence. Otherwise I’m just not prepared to take the risk.