Designer sunglasses for $12. High-end jeans that cost $8. A piece of antique furniture at a temptingly low price.
We all know how thrilling it can be to find a great deal online. But before you put the item in your shopping cart, take a moment and look closely—sometimes a deal is too good to be true.
Online shopping has made it easier than ever for vendors to sell counterfeit goods. Purchasing such items can leave you with an inferior product—and may even put your information at risk. But often these dubious listings come with clues indicating that you might be buying a fake.
“Five cues help me spot fakes online,” says Kevin Godfrey, owner of Henry Laurent Estate Sales. Having appraised and sold more than $100 million in luxury goods, Godfrey’s seen so many knockoffs that he’s developed a “sixth sense” about what’s real. And there’s no reason, he says, that consumers can’t hone this skill as well.
Here’s what he looks at:
An outrageously low price is the first indication that the product might not be genuine. If something is suspiciously cheap, trust your gut—and then do your research. Check around on other websites, particularly the manufacturer’s home page, where you may get a sense of what similar products retail for. “Especially with luxury items, if they’re significantly discounted, there’s a good chance they’re fake,” says Godfrey.
Some of the best-known online marketplaces, says Godfrey, are “littered with fakes” offered by third-party sellers whose products aren’t held to the standards of the site itself. Don’t trust a seller until you’ve verified that they are who they claim to be. How do you know? One way is to look at the URL. Make sure it starts with “https://”—that’s a signal you’re on a secure server, and it should be accompanied by a picture of a padlock or key. Of course, you should also read reviews, and don’t buy anything unless you’re certain that other consumers have had good experiences.
It’s an old cliché: The camera never lies. No matter how clever the counterfeiter, producing convincing photos is where they often trip up, says Godfrey. With new products, expect high-quality professional photos. For something used, however, Godfrey advises the shopper to look for the opposite: a photo of the actual product that’s going to be shipped to you, rather than a professional stock photo. Another warning sign: a photo where the item looks stretched or squeezed, which could mean the photo was taken off another site. If you really doubt what you’re seeing, do a reverse image search to see where else the image has been used online.
What does the site have to say about the product? If the description is garbled or riddled with typos, it can mean that the item isn’t for real. Be on the lookout for adjectives like “genuine,” “authentic” and “original,” which fake retailers love to throw around. “When you see that, I’d say there’s a 95 percent chance it’s a fake,” says Godfrey. “The real companies don’t need to tell the consumer that their goods are authentic.”
One of the sneakiest tactics in the counterfeiter’s arsenal involves not just fake goods, but a fake website as well. Social media is a particularly effective place to deploy this scam; posts can link to a website that looks genuine but is actually a front for a fake operation. “They copy a lot of the design elements from the official website,” says Godfrey, “so if you don’t look at the URL, you won’t realize that you’re not actually on the site you wanted to visit.”
Read More: Concerned about Internet fraud? Learn more about the Warning Signs of Identity Theft.