Is it Real or a Fake?

PowerSeller offers tips for identifying counterfeit designer goods.

by staff writer
- Apr 13, 2009

PowerSeller Rebecca Miller was at a thrift store recently when she spotted a Coach handbag sitting on a rack with other items that had yet to be laid out in the store.

"I thought to myself, 'Hmm… I wonder if that's a real Coach,'" Miller remembers. "It had the same stitching; it even had the patch of authenticity, but something struck me as very weird: The strap was cracked. It just didn't seem right."

She knew genuine Coach purses were made of quality materials that weren't likely to crack. That was a sure sign the bag was a fake. But at only 75 cents, Miller decided she'd buy it, just for kicks.

When she got home, a Google search for tips on spotting knock-off Coach purses showed her instincts were right—the handbag wasn't authentic. Had it been, she probably would have sold it on eBay for a tidy profit.

Even if the damaged strap hadn't been a blaring red sign of a forgery, she wanted to be sure of the bag's authenticity to avoid a run-in with eBay's Verified Rights Owner program, which is intended to protect intellectual property.

Other sellers should be cautious, too, Miller says—especially if they're buying products secondhand. Those who get caught listing counterfeit goods—whether knowingly or not—risk having their listings taken down, getting their accounts suspended and being branded as bad sellers.

Many high-end brands pride themselves on having perfectly symmetrical patterns

What to look for

But there are ways sellers—even those who are new to selling designer goods—can spot knock-offs and protect themselves from accidentally listing items that aren't genuine. Here are a few:

Look at the creed patch. Miller noticed grammatical errors on her bag's patch when she inspected it, which added to her suspicion that she was dealing with a fake. Some of the words ran together, so the creed read:

"This is a Coach bag. It Was handcrafted in China from thefinest materialstrimmedwith genuine leather Its superior craftsmanship and attention to detail reflect our commitment to enduring quality."

Well-known brands really do pay attention to the smallest detail and won't let typos or grammatical and spelling errors get by. Even a missing period at the end of a sentence is an indication you don't have a genuine handbag. The patch's content can also be helpful. If it states the purse is made of genuine leather, the purse should indeed be made of leather.

Check out the materials. Although some counterfeits are made of fairly good materials, they're never as good as those used for authentic purses. Knock-offs are usually made of stiff, discolored or uneven leather, signs of low quality. Also keep in mind that if some of the materials appear older than others, i.e. more worn, chances are, you don't have the real thing. Cracks—like those Miller saw on the handbag she bought—are dead giveaways you're looking at a counterfeit. Fake Louis Vuitton handbags are even easier to spot since real ones are made from one piece of fabric. That means they shouldn't have seams. If they do, don't list them or VeRO may come knocking.

Examine the stitching. This might be one of the easiest ways to figure out if it's OK to list a purse. High-end handbags and accessories have consistent, quality needlework. Threads shouldn't be loose, unraveled or crooked. Real designer bags are built with complexity to make sure they're strong enough to endure whatever people put them through. With genuine luxury handbags, you pay for the name and a product that will last you a long time.

Look for symmetry. In researching her fake handbag, Miller learned that authentic Coach bags have a pattern of perfectly symmetrical C's—and many other high-end brands also pride themselves on having perfectly symmetrical patterns. So the left and right sides of the purse should be mirror images of each other.

Check documentation. Most luxury purses also come with a booklet or other reading material that tells buyers about the brand's history and how to care for the item. This can be one of the most helpful hints because fakes rarely come with booklets. But this verification component might be the hardest to come by, especially if you're buying items secondhand.

Paying hundreds of dollars for a purse doesn't ensure you're getting a genuine item

Other clues to authenticity

Many designer handbags also have the designer's name on zippers, hardware and clasps. Manufacturers essentially want to put the brand's name in as many places as possible to combat counterfeits. High-end purses also tend to have serial numbers on the inside pocket to further reassure customers they're getting the real deal. So inspect the bag carefully before putting it up on eBay.

And even if you pay a couple hundred dollars for a luxury tote bag, be sure to take a good look at it before putting it on your eBay Store. Although Miller paid a mere 75 cents for her Coach imitation, paying hundreds of dollars for a purse doesn't ensure you're getting a genuine item. Wal-Mart was sued in 2006 for selling Louis Vuitton and Fendi knockoffs—some for more than $5,000—at its Sam's Club shops. If Wal-Mart had been an eBay seller, just think how its DSRs would have suffered.

Miller's advice to fellow sellers: Take time to educate yourselves so you don't wind up with a VeRO violation.

"Even if it's unintentional, it could really damage your reputation," she says. "If you're not sure, don't sell it."

There are many helpful Web sites to help determine whether your item is authentic or fake, such as Spotcounterfeits, the International Anticounterfeiting Coalition and AuthenticForum. And don't forget to check the Guides section of eBay, where you'll find more than 1,200 articles by eBay users explaining how to tell an item is counterfeit.

That "Coach" purse now sits under Miller's desk as a reminder of what could have happened had she not followed her instincts and done the research.

"It's going to sit on display as a memento," she says.

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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