Hunting for Handbags, Finding the Fakes

A diamond may be a girl's best friend, but a handbag is her constant companion. And a designer handbag represents all that is exclusive, sexy, and stylish. They cover the pages of fashion magazines and the faces of billboards, and rest delicately on the arms of celebrities and everyday women striving to capture that elusive "in" look.

But this status symbol doesn't come at a cheap price. Designer handbags carry price tags ranging from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars. And those prohibative prices have an increasing number of women flocking to department stores, boutiques, and increasingly, online shopping Web sites, in search of the perfect accessory at a discounted price.

A simple Google search of the words "designer handbags" returns more than 2 million results. The internet is the fashionista on a budget's playground -- but when shoppers turn to the internet to get an authentic handbag at a bargain price, are they really getting what they pay for?

Watch the story on "20/20: Promises, Promises" Friday at 10 p.m. ET

"20/20" couldn't resist making a few purchases to see what kind of bargain we could get through the web. At one site, we found a monogrammed Louis Vuitton and a classic Chanel, each for less than half of their retail price, but still pricey at around $600 dollars a piece.

At another site, we found a Fendi Spybag for $1,099, and at a third, a Balenciaga for $549. The handbags arrived as promised, even in a protective dust bag, but something just didn't seem right.

Finding the Fakes

ABC News enlisted Cameron Silver and Christos Garkinos, two men who authenticate handbags for their vintage stores Decades I and Decades II, to take a look at the discount purchases. In about as much time as it took Google to produce Web site results, Cameron and Christos had some results of their own.

Right off the bat, Christos had a few things to say about the so-called classic Chanel. "It's really cheap looking…the diamond stitching does not line up," he said.

He joked that the gold coin pull "is great if you want to get maybe a gumball." And the dust cover that the bag came in? "That's literally something for trash, that's a trash bag," he declared.

From afar, these bags might "look okay," but up close the differences between authentic designer handbags and the ones "20/20" purchased are obvious.

"So much of these luxury bags are about the presentation. It's everything from a box it comes in, the sleeper bag, the experience at the store. You're paying for all those things," said Cameron.

Lessons Learned

Despite claims of authenticity and designer name labels, from the bubbling and sheen of the leather on the Louis Vuitton to the stitching and handles on the Fendi, of the six different bags purchased at five different Web sites, every single one turned out to be fake. Worse, "20/20" spent more than $4,700 on bags the likes of which can be found for as little as $35 a piece on Canal Street, New York's counterfeit capital.

Experts say the higher the price, the more inclined the consumer is to believe that the bag is real, but as ABC News found, that is not always the case.

According to Ron Frasch, President and Chief Merchandising Officer for Saks Fifth Avenue, the only way to ensure authenticity is by purchasing your bag at an authorized retailer, such as Saks.

Top department stores and boutiques do offer sales, and if the consumer is willing to purchase a slightly used designer bag, a reputable second hand shop is another avenue to explore. If you're determined to do your shopping online, authorized Internet sites are also an option.

The bottom line? Experts say, if you want the real deal, be prepared to pay a premium. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

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