Real or fake: How to spot a counterfeit

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It takes timing.

"A man's watch, says it's an Omega," says an Indianapolis consumer.

It takes timing to get the right product at the right price.

"I'm sure those are, like, $150 sunglasses at the store," says a flea mart store clerk as we tried on a pair of sunglasses.

"I've looked up a Cartier and it is several thousand dollars," says our consumer, showing us another watch she owns.

Those $150 "Oakleys?"

"$29.99," says the flea mart clerk.

And our consumer's watch, listed at several thousand dollars?

"The Cartier was about $60," she says.

"We tend to see the majority of counterfeit products being anything from fashion shoes, purses, jewelry. Anything to even like a cell phone case," says Ball State Fashion Merchandising expert Professor Audrey Robbins.

"Otterbox. They look like the real thing," says Indiana Excise Police Cpl. Brandon Thomas."To the naked eye, you'd think you were getting authentic merchandise."

Reality check at the Indiana Excise Police evidence room.

"The Beats headphones. They do a really good job on the packaging. Only thing that would tip it off, they're selling for $25-30 as opposed to $125," Thomas said. "Price point is a dead giveaway."

Just some of the tens of thousands of counterfeit consumer goods seized by excise police recently are logged and stored in bins here.

Like the raid on the Liberty Bell Flea Mart in Indy. Excise documents show $2.2 million dollars worth of items were seized, but that's based on the retail value of the real McCoys - names you'll recognize but products that don't measure up.

"If it is a counterfeit name brand watch, it might fall apart," Robbins said.

Our consumer showed us other watches.

"The two men's watches, one of them, the stem broke off."

Thomas showed us that box of "Beats" headphones again.

"I just took it out of the box," he says, "and right away one of the headphones came off."

"When we have counterfeit merchandise, not only does it devalue the brand," said Robbins, "it makes it less desirable for people who would otherwise be purchasing."

The Ball State Fashion Merchandising expert says that hurts businesses. The National Crime Prevention Council says it kills three quarters of a million U.S. jobs a year.

All of that means less tax revenue to fund schools, police, and more. At the Liberty Bell alone, Thomas said, "almost their entire business was counterfeit merchandise . No taxes being paid."

In the last two years, excise agents served warrants at seven stores, from Indianapolis to Brookville and Peru, from Gary to Wabash and Elkhart. Fourteen people took plea bargains in the Brookville flea mart case.

Charges are still pending in the other five cases while prosecutors await results on all the evidence seized.

"You can tell on the horses," says Thomas, pointing to a fake Polo pullover. "It just looks a little off."
Name brand makers send police manuals to help spot fakes.

"Louis Vuitton would never allow flaws in their stitching," Thomas says.

The real, thousand-dollar bags are usually sold only at select stores.

"The handle and the trim work are made of vinyl, not leather materials," Thomas adds. "They just basically punch-stamped it on there, causing it to punch a hole into the leather itself."

The designer bag Thomas is holding has damaged leather sides because of a badly-applied medallion.

From faulty, phony badges to messy stitching on logos.

"North Face doesn't connect all their lines," Thomas says. And the phony G-Shock watch "doesn't actually say 'G-Shock' on the back. Says 'shock resistant.'"

Another way to tell - just ask. Those sunglasses at the flea market, for example.

"How can I be sure those are the real thing?" I asked the clerk.

"Real Oakleys?" he said. "They're designer-like...they're not real Oakleys."

And at a vintage shop, once we asked, the clerk was upfront about several purses including a Dolce and Gabbana bag.

"It's fake," she said. "Yeah it's fake."

The merchant says the designer badge is applied incorrectly.

Back in the evidence warehouse, more designer sneakers that creak and crack. A technician says, "on a real Ugg boot, it would not be like this."

The boot's upper is misshapen and the stitches are sloppy.

"A lot of time, they're manufactured in factories authorized to manufacture legitimate products," Robbins said.

So our consumer's Cartier watch?

"It works perfectly," she says.

She bought it in Asia nine years ago, suspecting it was a fake. Now, though, she thinks it could be one of those unauthorized, but real, items made when the assembly line was supposed to be closed for the night.

Either way, counterfeiting has its dark side.

"When you buy a counterfeit product, you really don't know where that money is going," says Robbins.

Experts think it could go to organized crime, even terrorists. So would our consumer buy fakes again?

"Now that I know all that I know about the black market, no, I don't think I would. My social conscience would get to me, yeah," she said.

Help spotting fakes

A few brands that post information about spotting, reporting and/or purchasing counterfeit products:

Apple
Kate Spade
Otterbox
Beats by Dre
Levi Strauss & Co.
Ralph Lauren
Canon (includes real/fake quiz)
Louis Vuitton
Sony
Chanel
Michael Kors
Ugg
Coach
Nike
Vera Bradley