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ConsumerWatch

Counterfeit Bags

Feb. 28, 2008

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - High end hand bags are all the rage, but the average consumer can't afford them,  so many opt for a fake.   That's why counterfeiting bags has become big business. 

But, how do you know when you're buying the real thing, and when you know it's a fake, do you know what you're getting into?

Just last month, federal prosecuters broke up a ring specializing in knock offs.

The men involved face serious fines and jail time, accused of smuggling products worth about $16 million from China to the United States.

Despite setbacks, the counterfeit market continues to grow and according to experts, consumers are buying right into it.

From models on the cat walk to people walking around in your neighborhood.

Hand bags are a must have accessory.

"It kind of makes the whole outfit more chic more and more hip," says Sarah Collins, Professor of Fashion at the Savannah College of Art and Design's Atlanta campus.

And these days, women aren't just carrying any purse.

They're clutching designer digs.

"They've become very much the status bag," says Collins.

According to Collins, there used to be a time when only the rich and famous had access to such fashion.

But not anymore.

"If you see a celebrity wearing it, well then you want that Balenciaga bag, but maybe you don't have $1500, but maybe you have $30, so you can have that same look," says Collins.

The look for less...which supports an entirely different industry.

"That opens the market to knocking off those hip, designer bags," says Collins.

Bags that some consumers gladly buy, but do you know what you're getting?

"There's a difference between knock offs and counterfeits," Collins says.

While a knock off or fake may simply be designer-inspired, a counterfeit claims to be what it's not and that's illegal.

Plus, crooks have gotten so good with replicas, even savvy shoppers may not know the difference.

Collins says this especially happens online when consumers assume they're saving money on the real deal.

"So you think you're getting a really, great, deep discount, but what you're getting is a fake."

We ask Collins to take a look at several hand bags to see if she can determine the difference.

Our Louis Vuitton is a dead give away.

"You can see some of the stitching coming undone and a real Louis Vuitton would never do that," says Collins.

The same is true for a so called Prada.

"The hardware is a bit skimpy," adds Collins.

At first glance, Collins thinks the Dooney and Burke may be a fake, but with a closer look...

"Just because of the detailing here, like I said, the zippers, the fact that it has colored stitching, the color here," she says.

Leads her to believe it's real...and we know the owner and can confirm, in fact, it is real.

Though it doesn't take much detailing on our next bag to know it's not.

"You can just feel, and a Chanel bag would be, lambskin, oh you would want to pet it," Collins says laughingly. 

And then there are those that feel just as good on the outside, but once you take a look at the inside.

"The details are great, they have the studs, they put a lot of effort into this one...and these actually look pretty good," Collins says of a red, leather bag that's supposed to be a Chloe.

But, Collins points toward the label.

"This is not sewn on, in fact, it's glued, and believe you me, they are not going to let that happen," says Collins.

Coach signature bags are pretty hot these days and it takes a critical eye to spot the real from the fake.

"If you notice the logo is straight up and down, and on the hat here, it starts to go slightly askew," describes Collins of the difference between a light-brown Coach purse and a hat that's fake.

Counterfeit or not...the question is, do consumers really care?

"At some point, it becomes philosophical or ethical, saying it does it matter, if I can't tell, if other people can't tell, does it matter that I have a fake," says Collins.

And while it may not matter to some who believe they're only getting over on companies already profitable, Collins says the problems with counterfeiting run much deeper, right into a culture of criminal activity.

"Sometimes they use child labor, so that's going to hurt there, sometimes they are, terrorists do sometimes go into that because it's such an easy thing to do," adds Collins.

Like buying a fake in the first place.

"Definite harm is being done by buying a counterfeit bag," she says.

But will that curb our endless craving to carry the hottest handbag?

"As, like I said, this cult of celebrity as being our fashion icon continues, I don't think it'll stop people."

More Tips on Fakes and Counterfeits from SCAD-Atlanta's Collins

  • Always feel the material...and check the seams of the purse to determine if the leather is real.
  • Lining can be deceiving!  Collins says counterfeiters often assume all high-end bags are lined, but in actuality, some are not.  Therefore, lining that normally doesn't exist is a give-away.
  • Knock-offs sometimes have shabby sewing and detailing.  For example, we noticed the handle of one purse was actually two pieces sewn together.  Collins says designers don't make these mistakes.  In fact, it's the small, details customers pay for with the real thing.
  • When in doubt, purchase a handbag from the designer's stores or authorized dealer (department store).  These will typically come with a serial number and registration card.
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