Knock-Off vs. Real Deal: How to Spot the Not

19 October 2014


Last week, I went to Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities, Cirque du Soleil's newest production, and while the show was fantastic – well worth the price of admission – the food and the souvenirs were way overpriced (typical of a show of that caliber).

The prices would tempt anyone to try and find cheaper alternatives, which is why sometimes if you exit an event like Cirque du Soleil or (more typically) a concert, you'll be quickly and immediately accosted by a bunch of guys selling t-shirts at a deep discount.

Has this happened to you? You'd know by how insistent these men were that you close the sale in minutes right on the spot. If you'd been there before, maybe you had a chance to take a close look at those shirts as well. No matter what event this happens at, they all come with the same M.O. From a distance those shirts look like the genuine article, basically identical to the ones you could get inside the venue. But if you look closely, the shirts are anything but -- there are a few subtle changes that indicate they're not exactly official merchandise.

So was that hasty purchase worth it to save a few dollars? Some Bargainmoosers (or is it Bargainmeeses?) may think so, but that purchase was counterfeit, which is why it happened so fast. The sellers were trying to get out of dodge before the cops caught wind. Hey, it's a nice deal if you can get it, but counterfeit goods come at a cost.

You may not care that the sale of counterfeit goods increases the price of the real product or that you don't know where the money you spent is going and counterfeit goods are often linked to terrorism, but you may care that counterfeit goods are of questionable quality and that money you saved may go right back into fixing the merchandise when it falls apart.

Whatever you think of counterfeit products, (good or bad) no Bargainmooser is worth their fake antlers if they can't tell the difference between an artificial product and the genuine article.

So, below you'll find a number of ways you can spot the not.

Look for Inconsistencies in the Packaging

The easiest way to spot a fake product is to look for differences in the packaging. Grammatical and spelling errors are common and rather obvious. We're not talking about the occasional missing comma here. Instead, you'll find random letters or typos in words they have no place in. Think "SOUTH AFRLCA" and "Assoxiation” for example. All of it is usually extremely obvious.

Even if there are no spelling mistakes, the printing quality would be rather shoddy. Look for colours that run or are different than those on the actual packaging you may have seen elsewhere. Look for warped or blurry text along with company logos that don't quite look the same as the brand you think you're buying.

Sometimes you'll notice shoddy workmanship on the package itself. Sometimes counterfeit packages are partially or completely open before they even leave the seller's hands. They might even be taped closed in a cheap and unprofessional way. If you see any of these many inconsistencies, they're an absolute dead giveaway that what you're getting isn't exactly the real thing.

Look for Deals that Seem Too Good to be True

It's not that counterfeit goods are always cheaper than the real products they are impersonating, but many of the deals you may be offered for them are generally ridiculously out of touch with the reality of the market. I mean, for crying out loud, who can afford to sell a brand new Louis Vuitton for $50 when the average price starts at $1,000 unless you are a counterfeiter? Exactly, nobody.

If you're still in doubt, perhaps you should compare previous versions of the product you bought with this more suspect edition or, if this is your first time buying this product, go to the company website and compare what you have to what you see online.

Look for Shoddy Workmanship and Missing Pieces

Most companies take pride in their products, so seeing torn, frayed or broken merchandise should send up red flags immediately. If you see missing tags, decals or parts that are present on genuine versions of what you purchased, then you probably have a fake in your midst. All genuine products come with everything needed for their operation, including a user's manual, product registration documents and accessories.

Therefore, if any of these are missing or different from what you'd typically expect, then you've likely been had by the seller. Again, it may not matter if something isn't quite the same as the original, but can you think of anyone who wants a crappy product, even if they're going for a deal?

Look for Safety Certification and Safety Standards Marks

If you're buying electronics, you'd usually find a Canadian Standards Association mark if it's a Canadian product and an Underwriter's Laboratory or ETL mark if it's an American product. All three marks certify that the product has been tested and meets North American safety standards In Europe, you're looking for a CE mark to tell you that the merchandise is certified for safe use on that continent.

Counterfeit goods either don't have these marks or have fake and generic versions of them. We recommend familiarizing yourself with what these marks really look like, so you know what to look for. Often, fake products will have the certification on the packaging, but not on the product itself and although the mark is of varying sizes on all products, they always look the same in terms of font and design. So, if these marks look different in any way, or they're just nowhere to be found, then you probably have a fake product and a huge fire hazard on your hands.

Okay BargainMoosers, have any of you ever bought a fake product? If you have, tell us your story.

Photo credit: Ben


  • Janjan
    I'm 99% sure I (unknowingly at the time) purchased a knock-off wedding dress. The designer wedding dress I wanted retailed for about $1,500, but I came across an advertisement for an online company that sold discount wedding dresses and just happened to have the dress I wanted for $500...$1,000 less than everywhere else I looked. It was only after I received my dress a week before my wedding that my husband saw the "certificate of authentication" and said that it looked fake. I then investigated and the designer claims that she does not sell her dresses online or through any other retailers online, yet my dress was made-to-order ---online. Overall, I was not disappointed because it likely wasn't an authentic designer dress because it was the look (not the brand) that I wanted...but I felt bad that it was a possibility that I had supported an industry founded on profiting from designs that were not their own.
    • Aaron B.
      Wow, compelling story Jan. It really illustrates the struggle. Thanks for sharing!
  • Anna Waters EDITOR
    I don't think I have knowingly bought a fake product, but I've been gifted fake cosmetics in the past. They're just not quite up to the quality standard that the big brands have.

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