Can You Spot a Fake?

How do you know if your beloved, pricey designer merchandise is the real deal or a cheap knock-off?

Cate Blanchett in the film "Blue Jasmine" with her signature Birkin bag.
Photo courtesy of Photofest

In Woody Allen’s 2013 film Blue Jasmine, Best-Actress Academy Award-winner Cate Blanchett’s character takes her chic Hermes Birkin handbag everywhere. Which got us thinking, how can you tell whether your $11,000 Birkin bag—or any pricey designer merchandise—is the real thing?

Lynn Meisler, owner and founder of Duet, the Luxury Collection, an upscale consignment shop in Livingston, says the first step is to trust no one. Then look closely at the merchandise.

When it comes to designer leather bags—like that Birkin—texture, smell and hue are dead giveaways. “Squeeze your bag. Fakes often feel spongy or rubbery rather than luxe,” Meisler says. “Then sniff your bag. It should smell like rich leather hide, not plastic or synthetic. And the colors should be deeply saturated.”

Another telltale sign is price. Even if a Birkin bag is pre-owned, Meisler cautions, it has a market value for its age and condition and will never sport a bargain-basement price tag. (Check eBay to get a general read on market value.)

But bogus Birkins are just the tip of the counterfeit iceberg. Buyers of designer-branded goods also have to be mindful of illegitimate watches, unofficial sports merchandise, bootleg (and worthless) tickets, cosmetics loaded with heavy toxins, liquor laced with chloroform, faulty (and dangerous) electronics and iPhones full of lead. Unfortunately, many fakes are widely distributed online—even by trusted websites like Amazon and eBay—and hard to detect prior to purchase, even for an eagle-eyed shopper.

For further clues, we turned to Craig Crosby, founder of the Counterfeit Report, a website that provides counterfeit-product alerts and photos of ersatz goods to help consumers identify fakes. Here are some of Crosby’s tips for spotting an imposter:

If the merchandise has a logo, is it straight and properly aligned?

If there is a label, is it neatly glued and centered?

Are the fit and finish up to snuff? Check out any stitching, grommets and buckles.

Does the color and style of the product and package exactly match that of the product as pictured on the manufacturer’s website?

If enclosed in a package, is the seal intact? Are all the words on the package spelled correctly?

And, the best tip of all: If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

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