Jan. 27, 2010 -- For most shoppers, getting fancy-looking goods at low prices is a good enough reason to buy counterfeit products. But a knockoff is not always a great deal, especially when it comes to counterfeit perfume, because a fake fragrance gets absorbed into the skin.
"Active ingredients found in counterfeit fragrance include things like urine, bacteria, antifreeze," Valerie Salembier, senior vice president and publisher of Harper's Bazaar, said.
Salembier and her staff have dedicated themselves to exposing counterfeits for more than six years. In the January issue of Harper's Bazaar, they target fake fragrances. They brought the issue of counterfeit perfume to "GMA's" attention.
"You're putting something on your face, on your neck, on your wrists. Those are sensitive parts of the body, so, to have active ingredients that could endanger your life is a very serious health risk," Salembier said.
Authorities in Britain and Ireland tested fake fragrances they'd seized and detected urine. Experts speculate it's used as a ph balance stabilizer and for its color
Dermatologist Jeannette Graf, of Great Neck, N.Y., said she had never seen a reaction from real perfumes, but fake ones can cause contact dermatitis, or an inflammation of the skin.
"They will invariably say that they felt different as soon as they put it on. They felt burning. They saw redness. It felt uncomfortable, it didn't smell right. And that's almost immediate," Graf said.
Graf said she is beginning to see more cases, because counterfeit perfumes are easy to buy on the streets and the Internet.
"People have access to things ... they would not have necessarily had before," Graf said.
Police are stepping up their raids to get the merchandise off the streets and off the market. But just as one shop is shut down, another one pops up.
ABC News' undercover cameras documented shelves upon shelves of fragrances that experts said contain the telltale signs of counterfeits.
"We see it happening every day. I mean, whether it's vendors [selling] out of their trunk at athletic events, whether it's kiosk-type people at flea markets, sometimes, they actually get into the shopping centers," Elaine Marshall, North Carolina's secretary of state, said.
Attempt to Drive Down Demand for Fake Fragrances
Earlier this month, Marshall's team and other federal and county agencies conducted a raid at a liquidation sale in downtown Durham.
The team seized $3.6 million worth of counterfeits, including fake perfume.
"We want to drive down demand. We want people to realize that it's not a bargain. It's not a bargain because they're dealing with some bad folks," Marshall said.
So the next time you reach for a fake another word should come to mind: fraud.
"It is not a victimless crime. The money spent on counterfeit goods supports terrorism, child labor, drug cartels," Salembier said.