Curtailing counterfeit goods is a major focus for brand owners who collectively spend billions of dollars a year to combat counterfeit goods worldwide.[1] Right now, the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition is holding its annual conference in Seattle, where I assist clients by protecting and enforcing their brands through trademark registrations, copyright registrations, domain name registrations, customs recordations, and by providing targeted anticounterfeiting advice.

Why are counterfeit goods such a problem? There are several factors, but two of the biggest factors are controlled by consumers:

  • Consumers who want the prestige of the branded product, without the price. This is a supply-and-demand issue.
  • Consumers who don’t realize they’re purchasing counterfeit goods. This is an education issue.

For years, the emphasis has been on curtailing the act of manufacturing and selling counterfeit goods. While this will remain an important mission, significant strides can be made by educating consumers about what they are really buying when they purchase counterfeit goods. Here are the top three reasons to avoid counterfeit goods, and five tips to help you discern whether goods are counterfeit.

Top Three Reasons to Avoid Counterfeit Goods

  1. Counterfeit goods kill people. Fake pharmaceuticals are the big category everyone thinks of, but consumers have also died from fake alcohol, infant formula, airplane parts, and by fire and electrocution from counterfeit goods.
  2. Counterfeit goods are often tied to human trafficking. If you have a box of tissues, you can read some of the graphic details of how children are treated in counterfeiting factories here. Counterfeiting is not a victimless crime. Quite the opposite.
  3. Counterfeit goods are not high quality, and in many cases, are downright bad for your health. Counterfeit cosmetics seized last month in Los Angeles tested positive for feces, lead, and bacteria. The cosmetics were fake versions of name brand cosmetics, such as MAC, URBAN DECAY, and KYLIE COSMETICS BY KYLIE JENNER.

Five Tips for Identifying Counterfeit Goods

  1. Where are the goods located? If you are at a flea market, swap meet, on Canal Street in New York, or on an obscure website, the chances are the goods are counterfeit. The United States publishes an annual “Notorious Markets” list that provides a helpful overview of notorious online and brick-and-mortar markets to avoid.
  2. Is the brand spelled correctly? Counterfeit goods vary greatly in terms of quality control, and some counterfeiters can’t even be bothered to spell the brand they are knocking off correctly.
  3. Do the labels, tags, packaging, and other point-of-sale items have the same look-and-feel as you would expect to find? For example, does the Mickey Mouse shirt you are contemplating buying have a hang tag sewn into the collar that includes some kind of DISNEY branding, or does it say HANES or another bulk t-shirt manufacturer’s information? If the branding on the shirt, and on the hang tag, don’t match—don’t purchase the product.
  4. Is the price what you would expect to pay for that particular item? Finding brand new JIMMY CHOO high heels for $19.99 isn’t a miracle, it’s a sign of a counterfeit product.
  5. It’s easy to look at the quality of a product you are buying in person, but online sales can be deceptive. Many times, counterfeiters use genuine photographs to lure unsuspecting buyers. If buying online, look at the seller’s reviews. You can often spot counterfeit goods by reading comments from prior purchasers who have been duped. If there are any negative reviews that reference counterfeit or fake goods, find another vendor to buy from.

Counterfeiting is a global problem that isn’t going to disappear overnight. But consumers can play an active role in stopping the manufacture and sale of counterfeit goods by not purchasing counterfeit goods.


[1] NetNames reports the “global anti-counterfeit packaging market” alone “could grow to $143 billion by 2020.”