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Can you spot the counterfeit product?

Kiplinger logo Kiplinger 12/28/2018 Andrea Browne Taylor, Online Editor, Kiplinger.com

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Video by Business Insider

In the famous New Yorker cartoon, two dogs sit in front of a computer. "On the Internet," one of them explains, "nobody knows you're a dog."

The subjects of the cartoon could just as well be counterfeit retailers: On the internet, nobody knows your product is a fake.

That's because the internet opens the doors to thousands of little-known merchants that make it easy for consumers to find sought-after products at bargain prices -- yet make it hard to examine those products up-close for telltale signs of fraud.

In this quiz, take a look at nine products -- from designer perfume to brand-name golf gear -- that are making the rounds on the counterfeit market. Think you can spot the fakes?

1. Christian Dior perfume: Real or counterfeit?

a bottle of wine: Christian Dior Perfume© Provided by The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Christian Dior Perfume

The correct answer: Counterfeit

Counterfeit perfumes can be dangerous, because they may contain harmful ingredients, such as urine and antifreeze. The bottle of perfume shown here is a knockoff version of luxury designer Christian Dior's women's perfume "J'Adore." There are several telltale signs that this is a fake product:

  • The product name on the counterfeit bottle is misspelled. It reads "J'aedar" instead of "J'Adore."
  • The knock-off perfume bottle is wider than the authentic version.
  • The stem of the counterfeit bottle has a smooth, gold-tone finish with a solid, gold-tone ball on top. The stem of the bottle on the authentic version has a gold-tone finish that's riveted. There's also a clear ball on top.
  • Price is also a big indicator of whether a coveted designer item is real or fake. For example, the authentic Christian Dior perfume retails for $130 for a 3.4-ounce bottle on Dior.com, as well as through authorized sellers, including Sephora, Macy's and Ulta. We found a site selling the counterfeit version for $6.

2. Rolex watch: Real or counterfeit?

a gold clock sitting on top of a table: Rolex Watch© Provided by The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Rolex Watch

The correct answer: Counterfeit

Rolex watches are a popular status symbol, and that's what makes them lucrative for counterfeiters. The watch featured here was among nearly $10 million dollars' worth of counterfeit luxury watches seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Philadelphia earlier this year.

Rolex is known for its superior craftsmanship. This knockoff version is poorly constructed and isn't a replica of any model currently for sale at Rolex.com. Here's how you can tell:

  • Authentic Rolex watches have a patented oyster case that protects the bezel and makes the watch waterproof. This watch doesn't have one.
  • The company's signature logo is engraved on the winding crown of its watches.
  • Rolex watches don't make a ticking sound like most traditional battery-operated watches do.

You can expect to pay a minimum of $5,000 for a brand-new Rolex watch direct from the manufacturer's website or through an authorized seller. If you come across one that's priced significantly lower, it is likely fake.

You can also purchase used Rolex watches through a trusted online consignment shop such as TheRealReal.com, which authenticates the previously owned luxury goods it sells. The cost for a used Rolex watch sold on the site starts at $1,000.

3. Gucci handbag: Real or counterfeit?

a piece of luggage sitting on top of a suitcase: Gucci Handbag© Provided by The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Gucci Handbag

The correct answer: The real thing

In the market for a Gucci handbag? If you're considering buying one somewhere other than the manufacturer's website or through an authorized seller, such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue or Nordstrom, there are a few design and product details you should be aware of to ensure you're getting the real deal. This is what you can expect with an authentic Gucci bag, according to eBay.com:

  • A branded dust bag made from high-quality materials comes with each new bag and helps keep it clean when not in use. A counterfeit version won't typically come with any official packaging.
  • A new Gucci handbag also comes with a "controllato" card (contrallato means "checked"), which has a series of numbers on it that signal the bag was inspected for quality prior to being sold.
  • Inside a new Gucci handbag, you'll find a leather brand-name label with a registered trademark symbol on it. The label will also say "Made in Italy" and will have a serial number stamped on the reverse side.

4: Nike Air Jordan 11 Retro Sneakers: Real or counterfeit?

a pair of red shoes: Nike Air Jordan 11 Retro Sneakers© Provided by The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Nike Air Jordan 11 Retro Sneakers

The correct answer: Counterfeit

Nike's Air Jordans are among the most popular sneakers today. That's in large part due to the line's namesake: legendary former NBA player Michael Jordan. Counterfeiters know this and use it as an opportunity to cash in on unsuspecting shoppers who don't know what to look for.

The shoes shown here are replicas of the Air Jordan 11 Retros and were part of a seizure by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection that included $55,000 worth of counterfeit Nike Air Jordan sneakers earlier this year. For sneakerheads, the design flaws are obvious:

  • The "Jumpman" logo near the ankle along the side of the shoe is set higher on the counterfeit sneakers. This leaves more open space between the logo and the patent leather panel that wraps around the bottom part of the shoe. Also, that same logo on the left shoe is off-center.
  • The number 23 that's stitched onto the back-ankle area is off-center and positioned higher on the counterfeit sneaker than on the authentic version.
  • The counterfeit sneakers shown here have five shoelace loops on either side of the shoe. The authentic version has six.

An authentic pair of Nike's red Air Jordan 11 Retro sneakers, which were released last year, originally retailed for $220. You can find knock-offs online for as little as $50 -- another sure sign you're not getting the real thing.

5. Beats headphones: Real or counterfeit?

a close up of a device: Beats by Dr. Dre Headphones© Provided by The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Beats by Dr. Dre Headphones

The correct answer: The real thing

Beats by Dr. Dre headphones have been lauded for their high-quality sound. They're so popular that you'll often see famous pro athletes wearing them, including Serena Williams at Wimbledon, Lebron James during the NBA Finals and Michael Phelps at the summer Olympics.

Counterfeiters have taken note and have turned selling fake Beats headphones into a lucrative business. U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 240 pairs late last year valued at about $18,000 total. There are usually obvious signs that a pair of headphones aren't authentic, according to BeatsByDre.com. They include:

  • Receiving a pair of headphones that are secured in loose shrink-wrap or unprofessional-looking packaging that has misspellings.
  • Receiving a set of headphones that did not come with a box, manual or warranty documentation.
  • A too-good-to-be-true price -- perhaps even with a discount for buying multiple pairs. Authorized sellers will never offer a lower price when you purchase more than one pair of Beats headphones at a time.  

6. Samsung phone charger: Real or counterfeit?

a close up of a keyboard: Samsung Smartphone Charger© Provided by The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Samsung Smartphone Charger

The correct answer: Counterfeit

The phone charger shown here was confiscated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection last year as part of a larger shipment of counterfeit Samsung-branded smartphone products valued at nearly $500,000. A quick glance may lead an unsuspecting consumer to believe this charger is real, but there's a blatant sign that it's a fake: The charger is missing the UL or Underwriters Laboratories logo, which is usually surrounded by a circle. This symbol signifies that the product was tested to ensure it meets industry safety standards, according to Wikihow.com. You'll see the logo on a variety of products from other brands.

Purchasing fake smartphone accessories, such as batteries and chargers, can be dangerous. Lesser-quality electronic materials used to construct them could ignite, resulting in the phone or charging adapter catching fire, according to Samsung.com.

To avoid getting duped, once again pay attention to the price tag. Samsung sells its adaptive fast-charging wall charger for $15 on its website and through authorized sellers, including Costco and Staples. If you come across a similar phone charger on another e-commerce site but the price is significantly cheaper, chances are it's not authentic. For example, on Amazon.com you can buy similar phone chargers that are labeled as Samsung products for as little as $6. A closer look at some of the customer reviews reveals complaints about poor quality (i.e., cracks in the product casing, electrical prongs falling out after a couple months of use and the full charging taking much longer than expected). Find a list of authorized resellers on Samsung's site.

7. Apple AirPods: Real or counterfeit?

a close up of a white wall: Apple Earpods© Provided by The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Apple Earpods

The correct answer: The real thing

You can expect any e-commerce retailer that sells counterfeit electronics to have fake Apple products for sale. Fortunately, distinguishing a counterfeit version from an authentic one, such as Apple's AirPod earbuds, shown here, can be done in one simple step.

All Apple products have a distinct serial number that always starts with zero, not the letter "O." To verify that the product you've purchased is legit, input that serial number into Apple's online database that reveals the warranty status and AppleCare coverage eligibility of authentic Apple products. On the AirPod earbuds, the serial number is located on the cord. If the serial number listed on your Apple product doesn't register in Apple's database or if it doesn't have a serial number at all, you've purchased a counterfeit product.

If you're looking to buy a pair of AirPd earbuds or another Apple product, check the company's website to locate brick-and-mortar store locations, as well as authorized sellers. 

8. Hugo boss shirt: Real or counterfeit?

a close up of a piece of paper: Hugo Boss Golf Shirt© Provided by The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Hugo Boss Golf Shirt

The correct answer: Counterfeit

Misspellings on labels and packaging are an obvious sign that a product is fake. The label on this counterfeit Hugo Boss golf shirt, which was confiscated in a seizure conducted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, has a few. Here's what we spotted:

  • There is a space missing between "do" and "not" where it says "Donot Bleach."
  • The product label says "Dry Cleanas Indicated." It should say "Dry Clean as Indicated."
  • In addition to the misspellings on the product label, the tag that's sewn into the collar has the words "HUGOBOSS" all together. On authentic apparel, there is a space between "HUGO" and "BOSS."

When shopping for designer clothing online through a site you aren't familiar with, you'll want to make sure it guarantees product authenticity. You should be able to easily find this on the site's home page, FAQ or About Us page.

9. Titleist golf balls: Real or counterfeit?

a close up of a book: Titleist Pro V1 Golf Balls© Provided by The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Titleist Pro V1 Golf Balls

The correct answer: The real thing

There's been an uptick in counterfeit golf gear sold online, according to TheCounterfeitReport.com. One of the most reproduced brands is Titleist, whose authentic products are used by popular PGA Tour competitors including Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth.

Titleist's Pro V1 golf ball is a hot item among counterfeiters. Consumers have complained about poor-quality replicas making the rounds on eBay and Amazon. There are a few things to watch for that will help you distinguish a fake set of Titleist Pro V1 golf balls from the real deal:

  • The dimples on the outer casing of fake Titleist golf balls will vary in size, while authentic versions are asymmetrical as shown in this YouTube video.
  • Titleist golf balls are made in the U.S. The packaging on counterfeit versions may say "Made in China." Also, if the items are shipped from another country, that's a telltale sign it's fake, warns TheCounterfeitReport.
  • Authentic Titleist golf balls are heavier in weight than counterfeit versions.

Photos: Getty Images, Courtesy of the United States Customs and Border Protection, Courtesy of Titleist

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