ABC News' Becky Worley reports:
Handbags are hot. They can cost thousands of dollars, and some women save for months to afford a coveted bag. So to get a deal, purse aficionados comb online retailers for discounts. But a new wave of sophisticated counterfeiters are creating online sites that look almost identical to the authentic brands. They seed Google results so they show up in searches, and they are even stealing their logos, artwork and product pictures to trick unknowing consumers into spending way too much on fake bags.
Even worse, many are selling their counterfeits through online consignment stores where it's even harder to spot the fakes from the real thing.
Odd Search Results
Last Christmas, I saved $150 using a discount code at Coach on a present for my mom; it felt like a real victory. But this year when I went online to see if I could find a Coach outlet, I got some weird results: sites that looked like they might be Coach, but something was a little off. The graphics were professional. The artwork and logos similar to what I'd expect at Coach, and while I don't know handbag models by name as many fans do, the product shots looked just very similar to what I'd expect at the Coach site.
But when I looked at the web address, it wasn't coach.com. Without giving away the name it was coachfactoryoutlet(then some gibberish).com. Without that clue I probably wouldn't have realized I was at a fake site until much later in the purchasing process.
The prices on the purses were marked down, but they weren't dirt-cheap as I'd expect from a knockoff vendor like those you see on Canal Street in New York or in cities across Asia. Purses were marked down from $500 to $200 or from $350 to $125.
For the sake of this assignment, I purchased a bag at one of the supposed Coach factory outlet stores for $74; the cheapest purse I could find on the site.
As I searched "outlet" and other brand names like Prada, Louis Vuitton and Michael Kors, I found many similar sites: they had look-alike graphics, the exact brand logos and top of the line product shots. Many had live customer support buttons, "about us" pages, and highly sophisticated check-out carts.
I bought a Louis Vuitton "Neverfull GM Bag" for $200, a Michael Kors bag that the website said was originally $389 marked off to $85 and another Michael Kors for $90 that didn't list an original price. I also purchased a Prada Soffiano tote for $213 and I found a Coach bag on Amazon that seemed strange, since Coach's website says Amazon is not one of its official retail outlets. But even more confusing, the Coach bag was fulfilled by Amazon and mailed by Amazon, so this wasn't an obscure Amazon affiliate selling the bag remotely. It seemed legitimate.
Four of the five purses arrived. I took some to Valerie Salembier, who runs The Authentics Foundation, an anti-counterfeiting organization in New York.
"They're fakes," she said after looking at them.
She pointed out craftsmanship details like flaws in the stitching, inferior materials, and a dead giveaway - the Coach purse I purchased on Amazon had an SKU number on it that didn't exist anywhere on the Coach site or on other Coach affiliated websites. It was only found at the Amazon site.
In fact, all of the bags that arrived were of inferior quality: One Michael Kors bag that arrived later had a price tag on it that reads MSRP $1295.00 but It was clearly made out of plastic. The Louis Vuitton bag had hard synthetic feeling materials for the purse body. And except for the bag from Amazon, all three of the others came from China with way-bills that declared the contents as "shoes."
Salembier says that counterfeiters are getting much more sophisticated online: increasing prices so they don't look too good to be true, replicating website artwork, and posting pictures of the authentic handbags but shipping knockoffs.
"That is the secret of counterfeiting: counterfeiters are in business to replicate," she said.
And while counterfeiters replicate very well, Salembier says there are some clear warning signs and methods to protect yourself.