Fake brands: They've got designs on your cash

A Rolex for £10? Crust toothpaste? We know they're fake but we just can't resist a bargain, says Sarah McCartney
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The Independent Online

Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton first used his monogram logo in the 19th century on his expensive luggage to discourage copying. And lo! The counterfeiting trade entered a new age. Now, the most convincing counterfeits of Vuitton bags are made in China and sold on internet sites. These sell "authentic" $2,000 bags for $800, spinning credible yarns about keeping costs low by selling online - audaciously copying images from LVMH's own eLuxury.com. Fakes, all of them. A $50 "replica" from a secret room off New York's Canal Street is obviously counterfeit, but at $800 you might be convinced. Don't be.

Nike, Puma, Adidas

Wherever there are sought-after, premium priced, branded goods such as trainers, the fakes won't be far behind. When Trading Standards seized more than £500,000 of counterfeits from Wembley Market, Nike's brown and orange cardboard boxes were ripped off to perfection. It's these details which convince shoppers that counterfeits are a good buy. If their manufacturers put that much effort into the boxes, surely the trainers are good quality too? Nope: they economise on the invisible bits like the foot support. It's not worth saving cash at the expense of your Achilles tendon.


You see them all over the place: men with trestle tables and piles of batteries which have packaging identical to the real thing. £1 for a pack of twelve. What a bargain! The thing about batteries is that they are a maintenance purchase; no pleasure involved. At the very least these counterfeits won't last as long as the real thing or will fail to work at all; at worst they will leak acid into your camera, your remote control or your magnetic cat door. Holograms, security seals, everything can be counterfeited. Buy yours from the supermarket.


Our fondness for the Tea Folk has not faded since Gaffer and his gang retired in 2002. Remember their little song? "Tetley (bom) Tettle-ettle-eee, Flavour (bom) lovely as can be..." Trading Standards found counterfeit Tetley Tea Bags in Scotland 10 years ago. Now that organised crime networks have established channels for smuggling fakes from China, the authorities are swimming against the tide. All the big tea brands are counterfeited: the bags usually contain some tea, but mouse and pigeon droppings come as standard. Again, it's recognised retailers only if you want yours uncontaminated.


Back to New York's Canal Street, where counterfeit Rolex, Gucci and Cartier watches and even Swatches are openly displayed for all to see. "Ten dollar," said the bloke with the pavement stall. "Were 15 dollar last week." I picked the most disgustingly vulgar timepiece I'd ever seen. "Chopard Swiss Made" it said on the back. A gold sticker on the strap said: "Made in China". Google quickly revealed that the genuine article does exist and it costs $13,000. The fake is illegal and may be funding organised crime, but the real one is an insult to good taste.

Von Dutch

Kenneth Howard, a racist alcoholic misanthropist, nicknamed Von Dutch, brilliantly customised cars and Harleys. After his death (last words: "Heil Hitler") his stylised signature was copied on to T-shirts and baseball caps by a company who claimed that this gave their brand an authentic history. (His family fought back.) Von Dutch jeans retail at around £175; the company even makes trainers for children. Counterfeits are ubiquitous. Q1: Why would anyone want to be seen with Von Dutch branding on any part of their anatomy? Q2: And the fake version? Q3: Has the world gone bananas?


When is it an illegal counterfeit and when is it a legal copy? In fashion, the law is notoriously difficult to apply. Intellectual property lawyers exist because both sides have a case to argue. In Shanghai there is (or was at the time of writing) a shop called Georgi Amoni which anyone with a brain can see is ripping off Giorgio Armani. The logo is just sufficiently different, the name is not quite the same but the intention is obviously for Georgi to convince Chinese shoppers that he is Giorgio. Would a judge see it the same way?


Italy, centre of European counterfeiting. Wherever you get organised crime, counterfeiting follows. (It's wise to bear this in mind rather than just comparing the real and fake goods on price and quality.) When UK company Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics opened in Italy, a copycat organisation knocked off all the products and produced a catalogue with identical wording; they even scanned in Lush's photographs and printed them. The judge's ruling? The Italian company had every right to copy the products and the words but told them to stop using the photographs. Astonishing but true.


At the venerable Parisian Musée de la Contrefaçon, among the fake "designer" goods, was a display of counterfeit Renault car parts. From spark plugs to car bonnets, they were designed to capitalise on Renault's excellent record for safety - then ruin it: a good reason to stick with your authorised Renault dealer. These kinds of counterfeit are known to the authorities as "safety-critical fakes" and include aircraft parts, baby milk, alcohol, medicines and children's toys. Although many come from China and Russia, the EU produces them too; the UK is particularly good at poisonous "vodka".


Some developing countries have few Western brands. They have locally produced, traditional products and an economy based on counterfeits. My tube of Crust toothpaste came from Tripoli. A Libyan housewife unfamiliar with the Roman alphabet would have no reason to believe that Crust was any different from Crest. Throughout Africa, companies make badly copied Western products from "Lewis" jeans to useless malaria drugs. Would you brush your teeth with Crust? Nor would I.


At home we've a collection of football shirts, travel souvenirs, which are regularly worn and washed. The genuine ones haven't faded or ripped - neither have the fakes. In a tiny Marrakech shop the owner told us that not even the actual team can afford real ones. China churns out illegal Arsenal counterfeits, indistinguishable from the real thing. They are snapped up from market stalls and off the internet. Ever tried telling a 10-year-old he can't have this season's strip?


The US government allows you to import one item of each type bearing a "questionable" trademark every 30 days. The French would arrest you. Varying laws and ethics foster different attitudes. In America counterfeits are called "knock-offs" to make them sound acceptable. In a culture where there is an emphasis on demonstrating success while saving money, you're

inviting counterfeiters in. One US website advertising fake Ping and Nike golf clubs says: "With these knock-offs, you can get what you want and save money while you do it." This pretty much sums up counterfeit-buying culture.