Counterfeit goods

Alongside dodgy designer knock-offs, sophisticated copies are being sold online - and they're that much harder to detect.
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01.The real thing?


Knock-off products are no longer easily identified by misspelled logos and shoddy craftsmanship, as counterfeit investigator Phill Arnold discovered for himself. He’s still unsure whether his pair of Adidas shoes is genuine or fake - he bought them at an upmarket mall in China, where he paid a little bit less than he would have for a pair of genuine Adidas shoes. The salesperson said they were counterfeits, but when Arnold asked someone at Adidas they couldn’t tell. 

While the quality of counterfeit products appears to be improving, the counterfeiters are also getting smarter at marketing their products. Techniques such as paid search results ads and search engine optimisation are being used by counterfeiters to lure consumers to their sites, and dodgy sellers sometimes use images from a brand’s most recent advertising campaigns to boost their credibility. Online auction houses like eBay specify that counterfeit products are not to be sold, but it doesn’t stop the counterfeiters. These days it's easy to fake tags, receipts and authenticity cards. The fact that online auction houses also sell genuine products means it’s hard for consumers to know whether or not they’re getting the real deal. Online trade portals, which are business-to-business sites for importers and distributors, are often infiltrated by counterfeiters, according to Arnold. Individuals wanting to make a buck are also known to purchase knock-offs on these trade portals and resell them for a profit on online auction houses.

Parallel lines

Counterfeiters have become so sophisticated that it seems even retailers might be being duped. Target, which is owned by Wesfarmers, is facing court action for allegedly placing fake MAC cosmetics on its shelves last year. MAC Cosmetics (an Estée Lauder brand) has said it tested the products and found they were counterfeit. While Target has not admitted the cosmetics were fake, it did not order the product through official channels. 

Sourcing legitimately branded products through unofficial channels, also known as parallel importing, is legal in Australia (with some exceptions) and is something that, in principle, CHOICE agrees with. Parallel imports can be a powerful way to reduce costs for consumers through increased competition - however, it should be noted that importation through unauthorised channels and supply chains may increase the risk of consumers being exposed to unsafe products. Parallel importation does not necessarily mean products are fake, or a safety concern, and parallel imports sold in Australia are subject to the same safety regulations and standards as legitimate products. However, there is a risk of counterfeit products posing as parallel imports, a Unilever spokesperson told CHOICE. 

Late last year, a 40-tonne shipment of counterfeit Omo laundry powder from China was prevented from reaching the Australian market when it was seized by customs. Unilever, which owns Omo, says all products are tested so they are safe for consumers, whereas counterfeit products may not be. “Counterfeit stock can contain cheap untested ingredients that aren’t as effective as those found in genuine products. At worst, these ingredients can damage clothes and have the potential to cause skin irritation in people with sensitive skin,” warns Mary Weir from Unilever. 

Parallel imports are becoming increasingly common in Australia, with supermarkets such as Woolworths looking into sourcing more products this way because it can be more cost effective. “When we know we are not getting a good deal locally, we are willing to take up parallel importing opportunities where there can be a guarantee on quality, supply, regulation and standards compliance,” said a Woolworths spokesperson. However, Woolworths would not supply information to CHOICE on how it would protect its supply chains from counterfeits.

Video: Nike fabric-ation?



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