Keeping it Real: How to Spot a Counterfeit

Thousands of Americans unknowingly purchase counterfeit products every single year, putting them at risk of potentially serious injuries, illnesses or even death. March is International Fraud Prevention Month and CSA Group, a public safety, testing and certification firm, offers tips and tools to spot counterfeit goods and help protect themselves from becoming fraud victims.

The risks are growing rapidly. With the latest technology at their fingertips, counterfeiters are finding more sophisticated ways to produce fraudulent products that are hard to separate from the real thing, potentially placing the public at serious risk. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, the total price of seized goods increased from $93.2 million in 2005 to $1.26 billion in 2012. This includes handbags and wallets, watches and jewelry, apparel and accessories, consumer electronics and parts.

"Consumers should look for authentic certification marks, particularly when buying gas and electrical appliances. Counterfeiters shipping to the US often include a fake certification mark to make the product look genuine," says Terry Hunter, manager of anti-counterfeiting at CSA Group. "Since fakes are not certified by an accredited organization, they may be missing safety features or using toxic materials, putting consumers at risk of injury or even death. It's important to be vigilant and take the necessary steps to spot counterfeit goods."

CSA Group offers the following tips:

Buyer beware: Best deal ever? Think again. If the price seems too good to be true, it likely is. Counterfeiters often make a profit by using substandard materials and cutting corners, increasing the risk to the customer. Know the fair market value of products and be suspicious of the product if it's significantly underpriced.

Look for the mark: Avoid products, especially electrical goods, if they don't have a label from a recognized certification organization such as CSA Group. If there is a mark, look closely to ensure it matches the design and color of the recognized certification organization. To confirm if a product is CSA Group certified, compare the identification label against the Certified Product Listing.

Recognize real: Brand-name companies want consumers to know whose product they're buying. When a product doesn't include a brand identifier or trademark, it may be counterfeit. Look for missing return addresses, company contact information, warranties or instructions.

Stick to solid: Check the "look and feel" of goods. Fake products are often too light and flimsy. Plus, counterfeit packaging is commonly poorly designed or includes partial illustrations, misspellings or unclear printing on products and labels.

Know the retailer: When in doubt, buy products from reputable, well-known stores or established online retailers that offer clear return policies. If purchasing online, especially electrical products, ensure the product is certified for use in your country.

CSA Group is a member of the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition, an association of certification organizations that is partnered with INTERPOL called CIAC - the Certification Industry Against Counterfeiting.
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