Q: My sister's birthday is soon, and she has been asking for a particular type of luxury handbag. I did some searching online, and found a really good price for the handbag she wants, but it seems a little too good. I want to be sure I'm getting her the real deal but not break the bank. Does the BBB have tips on how to be sure I get the real item, and not a fake?
A: The market for counterfeit luxury items is wide and deep, selling everything from jewelry and perfume to handbags and sunglasses. For bargain-hunters looking for name-brand items at discount prices online, Better Business Bureau offers advice on avoiding web-based rip-off schemes.
• Always deal with reputable businesses. The number one way to avoid getting ripped off when buying luxury goods is to deal with reputable businesses. When in doubt, shoppers can contact the manufacturer and verify which vendors are authorized sellers. Consumers should also check out the business with BBB before making a purchasing decision.
• If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. One of the biggest red flags for knock-off merchandise is an unrealistic price. Extremely low prices are tempting but not to be believed. Paying $100 for a $1,000 purse could result in the consumer receiving a poorly constructed -- and worthless -- fake.
• Read between the lines. Some websites or online classified ads will go overboard in their description of the item in order to coax the buyer's trust. Overuse of "genuine," "real" or "authentic" is a bad sign. Buyers also need to keep an eye out for sneaky phrases like "inspired by."
• Check the merchandise. Considering that the name is a large part of the motivation for buying a luxury brand, many manufacturers spend considerable time and energy on crafting the physical label. Counterfeiters aren't usually as meticulous. Shoppers should look for misspelled words and brand names, poorly sewn logos and labels, etc. Some luxury goods carry an "authenticity label" with a hologram or other security measure.
• Know the brand. Different luxury brands, such as purses, have specific hardware that consumers can rely on to identify a genuine piece. Zippers, screws, clasps and stitching are usually very specific for the brand and the manufacturer often has details on its website explaining what to look for and how to spot a knock-off. Craftsmanship is king for most luxury brands. If the sunglasses snap in two in the first week, or if the stitching and seams are ragged and don't match up on a purse, the items are probably counterfeit.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau of Chattanooga.