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Say you have some money after the holidays (perhaps an unwanted gift you returned) and want to offer you a handbag – perhaps by Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Coach COH -2 , 31%. You can go to one of their boutiques or department store counters. But a growing number of people looking for bargains will shop for these goods by discounters online, or buy them on the secondary market, online or in consignment shops. It’s a bit of a gamble, though, because you can not be sure you’re getting the real thing.

For example, in the context of history reports, luxury for less: new websites creators of goods and stores offer slightly used, Forbes contributor Wendy Goffe bought the handbag on the above photo car shop San Francisco, Cris. The bag says Louis Vuitton on the hardware, and in various places on the check pattern. But is it for real?

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Cris Zander, owner of the store that bears his name, would not vouch for the bag, but Goffe offered a full refund of $ 500, she spent if it turned out to be counterfeit. (A Louis Vuitton bag comparable, bought new, would have cost several times that amount.)
We went directly to the source, inviting Louis Vuitton to participate in a video in their Fifth Avenue store. Our proposal: to have a representative of Louis Vuitton has the side of the side bag with those in the store, and we show, feature for feature, why it is or is not the real thing.

Our requests to Louis Vuitton four different representatives in over a month, went into a black hole. (We did the video anyway, as you can see below.)

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Attempts to interview other luxury manufacturers on how to spot a fake brand were equally unsuccessful. Coach did not answer. A representative of Kate Spade said no one was available. Goyard past. And Chanel sent this statement by a spokesperson: “. The authentic Chanel products are only available in Chanel boutiques and authorized retailers” When we protested that it was obviously not true, the same spokesman responded by e-mail: “Unfortunately, Chanel has no comment Thank you for your understanding..”

Of course, counterfeiting is rampant, but the resale market is a sign of the strength of a brand. So it’s too bad companies will not help consumers – or talk to the press.

Yes, there are a handful of other companies that provide authentication, but proceed with caution. A call to one of them said that the phone had been disconnected. The company website needed a down payment before we could get information. And there was no indication that was running, who would be doing the work, and what makes that person qualified to give an opinion.

From the perspective of the consumer, there is surely a need for these services, but very few companies have seized the opportunity. The reason, says Susan Scafidi, who heads the Institute of Law of fashion at Fordham Law School and writes the blog Counterfeit Chic, is that “there is a tremendous responsibility if you’re wrong anyway.” Designers actively apply their brands, and do not want a false identified as the real thing. Likewise, if someone tries to harm sell the real thing and it is identified as a fake, too, could continue. All these actions can be costly to defend.

Also, if a fake is good, it can be difficult even for society to distinguish from the real thing, although they have covert and overt, ways to do it, said Scafidi. For example, the number of dots per inch in a seam can be a trade secret, and with items like Coach bags that have serial numbers, they can easily tell if it is for real.

Meanwhile, online sites of proliferation, it is easier than ever to get snookered. They have professional sounding names; include images that look like the real thing (these photos can even violate the rules of copyright); and prices of goods, it looks so like they discounting the real thing, rather than the overhead for a knockoff. As with any online provider, you’ll want to consider how long they have been in business; how many previous customers there; and be wary if the seller has a lot of stock in a paper that is sold elsewhere. Good luck getting them to take things back, or expect them to charge huge restocking fee for the privilege.

You can not necessarily believe what they say when something had to be. “It was a gift,” is all too common explanation. And although you may want to believe that something fell off a truck went out the back door of the factory in the night, these cases are rare, said Scafidi. Do not be fooled by the presence of a tag, either; anyone can forge a handbag can fake that, too.

What is a fashionista to do? Train your eye to spot a counterfeit watching the real thing in person – at a store or authorized reseller, Scafidi advises. So before buying a bag from another source, give it more time. Here are the features that recommend that you consider.

To “How to spot a fake Louis Vuitton,” click here.

Materials. All designer bags are made of leather. For example, Louis Vuitton is coated canvas with leather trim. If the lining is supposed to be leather, it should feel dry – not greasy, slippery or sticky. The material must be heavy – not hollow. If printed with the name of the designer, make sure it’s supposed to be.

Workmanship. The seam must be perfectly homogeneous, without loose or son back and forth at the end of stitching a seam – which is a sign of sloppy construction. Check the seams for pairing, whether quilting on a Chanel bag or the pattern on a Louis Vuitton. A company like Louis Vuitton, which values its logo would not divide the letters in a seam. And where the pattern appears on each side of the seam, it must match precisely.

Lining. Counterfeiters rarely have a good view of the inside of a bag. Typically, they work from photographs, which tend to distort the color. So if you went to a store and saw the color in person, you immediately have an advantage. It should be exactly the same color as the real thing, not an approximation.

Pockets. Again, it is easy for counterfeiters who work outside of the photographs, rather than copying the real thing, to be wrong. Scafidi a fake Chanel tote on which copyists omitted the pocket on the back, and a coach on which they included the back pocket, but added a zipper.
Place of manufacture. Some counterfeiters regularly mark Louis Vuitton knockoffs “Made in France”. But as it happens, at least one line was made in Spain. An example: a collaboration between artistic director of Louis Vuitton Marc Jacobs and Takashi Murakami, with cherry flowers with whimsical smiley-face centers against traditional business background brown.

Misspellings. In his collection of counterfeit bags Scafidi has a strong coach “eatherware” ( “L” in the word is omitted). Counterfeiters Goyard made an even more glaring error, spelling of company name “Gooyar” both on the printed canvas bag and dust cover. It’s a dead giveaway.

Based on these four criteria, Scafadi questioned the authenticity of the bag Louis Vuitton Goffe, though she could not say for sure if it was real or fake. The lining color is not faithful to the original, she noted; handles do not feel like leather; the pattern corresponding to the seams is not perfect; and it’s back and forth seam where the seam ends on the tab.

We sent the backpack Goffe, who made a distinct attempt to authenticate. Without disclosing that she writes for Forbes, she took the bag to the Louis Vuitton store in Seattle and asked if they could fix a scratch on the link, thinking they would not touch a knockoff. The saleswoman looked closely and said it was the deal-a real old style that is no longer.

“She inspected closely (inside, outside, and lining the pockets),” Goffe reported, including the serial number embedded in the felt just above the pocket that would indicate where and when the bag was made. “It has come out so she could not see clearly, but based on the overall wear on the bag, wear on the serial number was normal.” Usually, Louis Vuitton could redo the plumbing for $ 175, but not in this case because the vinyl was cracked, creating the risk of cracking later when they re-piped seams.

The plot thickened. Could it be that the previous owner had repaired the bag, but not by Louis Vuitton (given how much they charge for these services)? This would explain why the handles are not made of the same material as the leather tab on the end of the zipper. In an older bag with leather handles, they showed wear. So maybe the owner had the handles replaced by synthetics, which are more durable.

All this suggests that the bag was not a fake town called “custom modified.” Oh the places it could have been before landing in the consignment shop San Francisco. If only he could talk!

Addendum: While the bag can not speak for himself, three days after this article was published Sally A. Carlson, an executive recruiter with Equinox Research in San Francisco, contacted us to talk to her. Carlson, who says she recorded the bag Zander end of last year, wrote in an email that she bought the bag at the Louis Vuitton store on Union Square in San Francisco in 2007 and that it has never been changed. She also sent us a receipt showing she paid $ 1,120 for it.