The sale of counterfeit luxury fashion goods is on the rise - how to avoid falling for a scam

There are many scammers on Instagram. Picture: Laura Chouette/ Unsplash

There are many scammers on Instagram. Picture: Laura Chouette/ Unsplash

Published Mar 3, 2023


There’s a saying that goes, “You’ve got to fake it until you can make it.”

While this saying makes reference to an attitude towards achieving one’s goals, it seems there are many go-getters out there who are taking it far too literally and opting to fake a lifestyle as well.

Of course, we all want beautiful luxury items but not everyone can afford them.

Owning a rare Birkin bag is the equivalent of owning a luxury car.

However, one cannot buy a fake sports car but it’s become very easy to buy a fake Birkin.

And it’s now become easier than ever, especially since the fakes are starting to look more and more like the real thing. In the past one could spot a fake Gucci or Louis Vuitton item a mile away.

According to Michael Zahariev, co-founder of the luxury reseller and authenticator, Luxity, South Africa has become a hotspot for ‘triple A-grade’ fakes – replicas of luxury items that are quite difficult to distinguish from the original.

We spoke to Zahariev about the rise of counterfeit luxury goods and which products to look out for.

Why are fake luxury items on the rise?

Over the last five years, we have gone from fake luxury items that are instantly recognisable in pictures to needing to examine bags under a microscope to confirm materials, sticking and details.

These fake luxury goods are often sold at a high price which can be uptown 80% of the retail of the original.

What types of fake luxury goods are the most popular in South Africa?

The majority of fake luxury goods in South Africa are handbags, as well as shoes and clothing but the fakes in these categories are much lower in number and quality and thus easier to spot.

There is a vast network of counterfeiters selling fake luxury items on Instagram, especially Louis Vuitton and Gucci bags.

Fake Louis Vuitton bags are hard to spot. Picture: Jonathan J. Castellon/ Unsplash

Why are so many people comfortable with buying fakes?

Although many people are comfortable buying fake luxury goods, normally because they believe the people won’t be able to tell the difference, we have seen a large increase in people purchasing fake luxury goods under the impression that it’s the real thing.

A lot of Instagram pages are using the platform to promote fake luxury goods as if they are real and because these fakes have become so convincing, many people believe they are receiving a genuine item.

Some pages even claim to be selling pre-owned items to explain the price difference.

What are the most popular fake brands people are buying right now buy?

Research into fake luxury goods is often segregated into what the most popular items are in the country.

For South Africa which would be Louis Vuitton and Gucci, the counterfeiters will usually stick to counterfeiting the most popular items such as the Louis Vuitton Neverfull, Speed or Giant Monogram OnTheGo tote.

Naturally, we also see many fake Hermes Birkins and Chanel Flap bags which each retail for above R150 000 new.

Beware of online scammers. Picture: Laura Chouette/ Unsplash

Zahariev shares red flags to look out for to avoid becoming a victim of the country’s counterfeiters:

No returns or exchanges

Swindlers don’t allow these – a sure sign that their items are fake.

If the price is too good to be true, it probably is

While the prices of triple A-grade fakes might not be as high as the genuine item, they're high enough to make someone believe that they're still forking out a significant amount for what could be an original.

Often, shoppers will be fed a story about why it’s a bit cheaper. Counterfeits generally resell for up to 35% of the original price, although there are exceptions, with some sophisticated counterfeiters charging up to 80%.

Pre-owned posers

Some scammers will try to pass items off as pre-owned to explain the lower price. Make sure to look up reviews on the company to ensure that it's a legitimate business and not just a fly-by-night operation.

No website or physical address

As most of these sellers deal directly with customers through WhatsApp or social media, if a product is fake, buyers have little recourse when it comes to querying its authenticity or reporting the fraudsters to the authorities.

Waiting lists

A number of counterfeiters will tell customers that there’s a two- or three-week waiting list. But this is because they’re importing items from China on order and not from Chanel, like buyers are told.

So-called private shoppers

One way that criminals convince people to part with their cash is by telling them that they will be going overseas and will buy the desired product for them. The “shopper” and the money are never seen again, or they return with a counterfeit.

2 Minute details

In the past, a common way to catch counterfeits was by checking the material and stitching on an item, but this is no longer the case, as crooks have gotten better and better over time at getting this right.

Nowadays, to the untrained eye it can be close to impossible to tell if an item is counterfeit or not.

“These are just a few ways that scammers are fooling South Africans out of their hard-earned cash.

“As always, it remains best to only buy directly from the brands themselves or through a trusted reseller. It may cost a little extra, but at least you are guaranteed that you won’t be getting a counterfeit,” concludes Zahariev.