What does counterfeit really mean, and how easy is it to buy fake products?

If you look up the meaning of the verb ‘counterfeit’ in a dictionary, you’ll find something along the lines of: ‘To make an imitation of, imitate (with intent to deceive)’.


This might seem like a straightforward definition, but in reality counterfeiting is a more complex issue than you’d think.


Counterfeits vs. Knock-Offs

Some might think that the words ‘counterfeit’ and ‘knock-off’ are interchangeable, and to a certain extent they are. But there is a crucial difference between the two: ‘counterfeit’ products intend to deceive the consumer about the fact that they’re not the real brand item, ‘knock-offs’ make no attempt to hide the fact that they are imitation and so do not deceive the consumer.


Counterfeits imitate a brand’s logo, slogan, product design, and everything else to the exact detail. A recent example which comes to mind is the alleged Michael Kors handbags that have been advertised everywhere on the internet at extremely low prices. This type of counterfeiting, and purchasing of this type of counterfeit, is illegal because it’s trademark infringement.


When it comes to counterfeits, the consumer becomes the victim because they unknowingly paid money for an authentic brand product which was not authentic at all.


The Numbers Behind Counterfeiting

According to a US Customs and Border Protection report, a valued $1.2 billion worth of counterfeit goods were confiscated in 2014 alone. Billions every year are lost to the world economy because of counterfeits on the black market.


But even these figures are just a fraction of the real numbers, simply because it’s impossible to accurately calculate how many counterfeits products are being made, transported and sold to consumers.


Another factor to the widespread purchasing of counterfeits is how easy it is to acquire them. Even if websites like Alibaba try to control counterfeits sold by their users, counterfeit products are still readily found everywhere as this personal story by a CNBC writer shows.


The worst part about counterfeiting, as the CNBC story rightly shows, is that while it is so easy to mistakenly buy a counterfeit, it is equally difficult to prove that it is a fake and get compensation for the purchase.


Counterfeiting is Everywhere

In the past, counterfeited goods were mostly accessible from the streets. Now, counterfeit products are only a click away every time you use the internet.


Of course, there are sites like Craigslist, Alibaba, Aliexpress and so on which are commonly known among internet users as being less trustworthy than other sites. People tend to be cautious when using these platforms.


But don’t be fooled into thinking that counterfeiting isn’t also on more reputable websites like Amazon. A particular seller of electronic goods on Amazon found that over 70% of the products claiming to be authentic and sold by third-parties were actually counterfeit. A brand doesn’t have to be extremely successful, like say Apple or Nike or Gucci, for it to have counterfeits made of its products.


It’s easy to be tricked into buying counterfeits. The situation is made even worse online because often people don’t realise that they’ve bought counterfeits and they’ll leave the vendor good reviews praising the product on their account, making it even more difficult for consumers to discern the deceitful sellers from the genuine ones.


The only way to avoid buying counterfeits is by educating yourself on what to look out for, which is why you should learn how to spot and avoid counterfeit products so that you’ll get the full value of your money when shopping online.