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NATIONAL (CONSUMER REPORTS) - Designers lose billions of dollars every year because people rip off their styles.
Counterfeiting is big business, especially when it comes to designer accessories. Every year manufacturers lose over $200 billion in revenue due to bogus merchandise. Now, more of it is being sold online.
Consumer Reports ShopSmart says there are telltale signs you're not getting the real deal.
Seductive ads make a lot of designer merchandise seem so irresistible - Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany and Company. But paying retail at designer stores is out of reach for most people.
Enter the world of online shopping, where the unattainable seems a mouse click away. But buyer beware - you should always proceed with caution. Bargain prices can be hard to resist, but if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.
At a glance - counterfeit items can look authentic. But Pat Slaven, a Consumer Reports textile expert, can easily spot the differences between a $400 Louis Vuitton wallet and the $80 fake. "In the fake, the snap isn't centered on the pattern. The real one, the snap's centered. One of the other major differences between the two wallets, the fake doesn't have a colored matched zipper and the lining is a very different quality in the fake."
But when shopping online, differences are tougher to spot.
ShopSmart says you should ask for additional photos - and steer clear if you don't get them. Also, look beyond the designer names.
You may see words like "authentic" - but look in the fine print for phrases like "inspired by." That means it's a fake.
Another red flag - believe it or not - is retail prices. Betsy Wiesendanger says, "Counterfeiters are using a different psychology. They're actually charging high prices in the hopes you'll be fooled."
Before you buy - look for a site's e-mail address, phone number, and street address. If you don't trust a site - try to get a hold of them. If your e-mail bounces back, or no one answers the phone, simply say - no deal.
Wiesendanger says, "Well, sad but true, the only way to make sure that you're getting the real deal is to buy directly from the company or from an authorized seller."
If you still can't resist a designer handbag or wallet online, pay with a credit card instead of a money order or check. That way you may be able to get the charge reversed if you end up with a fake.