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“If you can make it, I can fake it!”

This boast by a renowned forger of brand name goods highlights a major problem facing each one of us – counterfeiting. While you may associate that word with fake dollar bills or works of art, the most common things that are being faked nowadays are brand-name goods – the type you and I buy every single day. Adidas, Nike, Apple, Microsoft, -they’re all being ripped off big time. And you and I may well be, unwittingly, paying big dollars for cheap rip-offs.

The modern day counterfeiter will adjust his product to whatever is in vogue. Today he may be producing imitation Chanel perfume, tomorrow fake Reebok sports shoes and the next day counterfeit Slazenger tennis rackets. Meanwhile the customer is paying big dollars for an inferior product. Sure that designer watch that sells elsewhere for $300 looks like a bargain at $50, but its actual worth is probably closer to $5.

But getting ripped off is not the only problem associated with counterfeit brand name products. More serious is the danger of inferior goods. They do, in fact, present a real threat to consumer safety. According to Trademark World magazine, “Fourteen aeroplane crashes and at least two deaths have been traced to counterfeit aviation parts.” Millions of cars are being driven with inferior electrical plugs and fake brake cylinders, disk pads and even counterfeit tires. The risk to life is obvious.

Then there is the massive problem of fake drugs. A person buying medication in Africa, for instance, is taking their life in their hands. It is estimated that as many as 70% of all drugs sold on that continent are fake. Often antibiotics contain no antibiotics at all. Eye drops have been sold that not only contain no active ingredient, but that were made with contaminated water.

Another area where counterfeiters cash in is the growing demand for collectibles. Famous examples such as the Piltdown man and the Hitler Diaries only scratch at the surface of an industry able to fool even those who are experts in their field. The Hitler Diaries, for example, underwent intense scrutiny by historians, handwriting experts and forensic scientists before being proclaimed a fake. So, too the Piltdown man ‘fossil’ fooled scientists for many years before it was proven to be a hoax.

What hope then do you and I have of avoiding being conned by counterfeiters? The best and only advice is to be an informed and alert shopper. If offered a product at an exorbitantly reduced price, there is more than a slight chance that it is not the genuine article. It is, then, a case of caveat emptor – ‘let the buyer beware.’