How to protect yourself from designer knock-offs

On the occasion of the Sixth Global Congress on Combating Counterfeiting and Piracy, which opens in Paris on February 2, here are some tips on how to avoid getting ripped off in fashion.

1. Shop the label from its own store or website or from a renowned department store or multi-label online outlet such as netaporter.com. If you can't buy the product directly from the designer online, check the brand's stockists to get a list of the brand's approved stores.

"Never buy luxury items on the street or from a random site online," says Joanna Douglas, editor at women's community website shine.com. Search engines cannot screen for sites carrying knock-offs and the pictures you see may vary from the actual item you receive. Do some research ahead of time to know exactly what your item should look like. If a vendor only accepts cash, this is also a red flag. Keep receipts and use a credit card so you have a record of your transaction."

2. Ask for guarantees.

"The seller should provide a guarantee their product is authentic," says knowledge-sharing site bukisa.com. "If you don't see that information online, contact the website and ask them for a guarantee the merchandise is authentic. The guarantee should include the option of returning any goods within a certain time period. Buying from a third party should be avoided. If buying from a third party ask for this authentic guarantee and return policy."

3. Check the labels, tags, stitching, lining, materials, and packaging in person wherever possible.

"If the materials seem cheap, rough, unevenly dyed or woven, or poorly made, the item is probably a fake," says Bridget P. Allen on ArticleSet. "Furthermore, take a close look at the craftsmanship. Check the seams, buttons, zippers, and any other items that can give an item away as a fake. With bags and shoes, look at the quality of the leather. Furthermore, the lining of a bag can tell you more about the quality of that particular purse than anything else, so be sure to take a peek inside."

4. Be realistic. If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.

"Designer bags cost a lot of money because they are well crafted and they're status symbols," say the editors at wikiHow.

And even if it seems tempting to buy a well-made imitation of the designer item of your dreams: "Counterfeits are illegal, and they are typically made under poor and unfair work conditions," writes Douglas. "They lessen the value of the brands you're essentially trying to support and negatively impact the overall global economy - the counterfeit industry removes tens of thousands of jobs and costs an estimated $600 billion of legitimate revenue a year. Not to mention you'll be missing out on the thrill of owning the real thing and have no warranty."

5. Pay extra attention when planning on buying any of these items, identified as the top 10 most counterfeited items of 2010 by consumer site SiteJabber:

1. UGGs
2. Coach handbags and leather items
3. Tiffany's
4. Athletic jerseys
5. Perfume
6. Nike sneakers (especially Air Yeezy and Air Jordans)
7. Ed Hardy and Juicy brands
8. Watches (like Rolex, Omega, and Tag Heuer)
9. North Face
10. DVDs (especially box sets of TV series)

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