How to Spot a Counterfeit Product

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — Jaime Palmucci was shopping at a consignment shop in Chicago when she spotted a great steal: a pair of designer Rock & Republic jeans with a $40 price tag.

“I didn’t realize until years later that they were fakes,” Palmucci recalls. She discovered the duds were a dupe after emailing pictures to an employee with the brand. “It was embarrassing and pretty frustrating. I figured that the shop would do a better job of vetting counterfeit items.”

But Palmucci is hardly the first – or last—consumer to purchase counterfeit goods, as counterfeiting has become more widespread during the past few years.

“Law enforcement agencies have made improvements in recovering counterfeit goods,” Joe LaRocca, senior asset protection adviser with the National Retail Federation, tells MainStreet. “But the problem has grown because counterfeit groups have also improved their manufacturing practices and these goods have become much harder to identify.”

Recent stats released by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirm that counterfeiting is on the rise. In 2010, the agencies made 19,959 seizures of counterfeit goods, a 34% increase over 2009 numbers. The total domestic value of fake goods seized last year totaled $188.1 million, the estimated manufacturers’ suggested retail price. Had those seized products been the real thing, ICE estimates they would have sold for a total of $1.4 billion, which reveals just how much companies are losing to counterfeiters and how much American consumers want a luxury product at a bargain price.

“Consumers, for the most part, don’t know that the product is counterfeit,” LaRocca says, “but with the economic climate being what it is, they are looking for a deal.”

Unfortunately, there are plenty of good reasons not to buy a counterfeit product. As the ICE cites, buying counterfeit goods can put shoddy, perhaps even dangerous products into consumers’ hands, not to mention fund organized crime and keep Americans from well-paying jobs.

So how can consumers spot and avoid unwittingly buying counterfeit goods? MainStreet talked to experts for suggestions.