ARTCILE_fake_items.jpgFor women, striding in designer heels or toting a designer bag is an indication of belonging to an elite group of peoplewomen, in particular, who are financially capable of indulging in fashionable yet very expensive items.

A bag by Chanel or a pair of heels by Christian Louboutin top many women's wish lists, but of these women, only a fraction will actually be able to afford to purchase these items. So while the few flock to the Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Prada stores here and abroad to get their hands on the latest styles, the majority trawl secondhand shops and online stores, hoping to score that elusive Birkin for a decidedly marked down price. Unfortunately, scouring these places for designer items does have one major pitfalland it begins with a letter "F."

The days of blatantly fake bags and shoes are over. Nowadays, counterfeiters are capable of producing knockoffs that will fool even the savviest shoppers. Those bags, sunglasses, and wallets that litter Greenhills? They're no match for the highly believable ones that are being sold for hundreds and hundreds of dollars. They may not cost as much as the real ones (which can go for upward of a thousand dollars), but the fact remains that they're fake; to pay good money for them is ridiculous. And the worst part? People are actually falling for the ruse.

And it's not hard to see why. According to a recent article by Elizabeth Holmes of the Wall Street Journal, this new wave of fake goods is far more convincing than previous products. Think high-quality materials, brand names emblazoned in all the right places, and even stamps of the manufacturing location and date. And the counterfeiting doesn't just stop there. Online merchants also take extra care in ensuring that their websites look professional and that their product descriptions sound authentic. According to Frederick Felman, chief marketing officer at MarkMonitor, which helps companies protect their brands, "[Online vendors] also buy keyword advertisements on search engines to lure in bargain-hunting shoppers."

If you're still bent on making that investment, then equip yourself with the smarts you need to make sure you don't get ripped off. Think of the purchase as similar to buying a house or a caryou won't just drop the cash without doing your research, right? Make your purchase at the brand's own store to ensure authenticity. Reputable department store chains are also a good place to go, should you decide to buy.

If you'd rather buy online, make eBay your first stop. According to the Wall Street Journal, the website employs a program that equips brands and other intellectual property rights owners with tools to report listings, and also has representatives that scour the listings for fake items. "In the rare cases when a counterfeit item appears on the site, buyers are covered for eligible purchases through our Buyer Protection programs," says Dan Dougherty, eBay associate general counsel, intellectual property. This means that consumers can return an item if it is not what the seller promised.

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A Louis Vuitton or Gucci bag may come up low in the hierarchy of investments, but given their hefty costs, it's always best to be cautious. Just because a handbag has the aroma of real leather or comes with official-looking documents doesn't mean it is the real thing. Be vigilant, and you can avoid falling victim to such situations.

(Photo by Simon Q via Flickr Creative Commons.)

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