There you are, surfing the Web or browsing booths at a flea market, and you come across an unbelievable deal on your dream athletic shoes.
Now's the time to pay attention to the adage, "If something seems too good to be true, it probably is."
The market for counterfeit merchandise -- everything from fake Nike athletic shoes to airplane parts -- costs U.S. companies more than $200 billion each year, according to www.stopfakes.gov, a consumer-information Web site.
Before you hand over your money, take some time to be sure you're not being scammed.
- For starters, educate yourself. Most legitimate shoe stores and department stores are selling authentic merchandise. Examine the athletic shoe styles you're interested in buying -- and don't forget to check the packaging. It might help you spot fakes elsewhere in the future.
- Some fakes are easy to spot because the stitching, colors, logos, packaging or other details are off.
Other knockoffs are so close to the real thing that even experts have trouble telling the difference. Buying from a reputable source is the only way to ensure you're getting authentic goods.
- Before you buy anything online, check the seller's feedback and reviews. eBay and other online forums offer tips for avoiding counterfeit merchandise and post lists of dishonest sellers. Also, check the length of time the seller has been doing business on a particular auction site.
Usually, sellers dealing in fraudulent merchandise open and close shop quickly.
- Pay by credit card. It offers you some protection if you are scammed. Beware of vendors who want cash, a check or a money order.
- If you are buying vintage or discontinued styles of athletic shoes, be wary when you spot a merchant with a full run of sizes.
The likelihood that someone would have every size of a rare shoe in stock is slim to none. Be suspicious of any dealer who offers a wide range of hard-to-find or limited-edition athletic shoes at bargain prices.
- Don't assume that the picture posted on a seller's Web site is what you're buying. Some sites use a picture of authentic merchandise and then send you a pair of fakes. Others take your money and don't send you anything at all.
- Watch out for such descriptions as "variants," "factory variants," "samples" and "customs."
Samples are made by athletic shoe companies, usually just in size 9. You're not going to find a sample in a full run of sizes. Variants, plain and simple, are knockoffs, not made by the company.
Customs are shoes that have been altered, enhanced or gussied up in some way. There are custom designers out there, but many sites selling "customs" are actually selling fakes.