If you have your heart set on the latest Fendi bag or Gucci sunglasses -- but these luxury items aren't in your monthly budget -- you may consider going online to find bargains on these hot items. While the majority of online sellers are honest and reliable, the sale of counterfeit items on the Web has been dramatically increasing the past few years. Unfortunately, luxury goods providers cannot authenticate items unless they were purchased from their own store, Web site or authorized dealer, so it is up to the buyer to choose wisely when purchasing higher-end items online.
Steve Woda, founder of online trust and safety company buySAFE, offers the following tips to protect you from online fakes:
+ Don't buy based on price alone. We all know that if the price is too good to be true, it probably is. Not all knockoffs sell for cheap, however. High prices can add a sense of legitimacy, and many knockoff sellers know this. Just because the price is high doesn't mean it's authentic.
+ Pictures are not always worth a thousand words. If a seller only has a few pictures, and won't share more, you know you're dealing with someone illegitimate. Anyone selling high-value goods -- used or new -- understands the importance of authenticity. If the merchant is selling something genuine, they will have nothing to hide.
+ Read the fine print. Some etailers or auction sellers will lure you in with words that you're likely to search for like "Chanel" or "Gucci". Many sites also use overkill -- "authentic," "genuine" and other enticing adjectives -- to describe their fashion items. It's only by reading carefully through the descriptions that you will see comments like "Inspired by..." to let you know that the merchandise isn't an exact copy (which then affords etailers immunity from trademark infringement.)
+ Return or get burned. Make sure the seller offers a return policy, or ensure that they use a buyer protection program like buySAFE. buySAFE qualifies sellers by verifying their identities and ensuring that the seller can meet the terms of the sale. Sellers that meet this criteria can bond their transactions with a surety bond up to $25,000 from Liberty Mutual Insurance. This means that if the seller doesn't keep to the terms of the deal by providing the product as promised, the buyer is protected. Shoppers can find Bonded Sellers easily at www.buysafeshopping.com , or by looking for the buySAFE Seal on a listing.
+ The extras. Designers love to provide value-added extras, such as boxes, identity cards, and storage bags. But be vigilant. As always, the counterfeiters are one step ahead, and know how to fake packaging and ID cards, or provide you with fake photos of the like, so don't let your guard down. Recent reports have stated that counterfeiters are even buying fake receipts to prove authenticity.
At the end of the day, it's caveat emptor. If you have that queasy feeling in your stomach before you click 'buy', don't.