Counterfeiting is a huge industry. Factories all over the world turn out clothing and electrical goods that look like the real thing but, critically, are not. Sometimes the same people in the same factories make goods that are genuine, and goods that are counterfeit. You might think having a good fake is worth having, but in almost all cases you would be wrong. Even leaving aside the moral implications of buying fakes, when it comes to tech devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, buying a fake is never a great idea.
You have no idea what you are purchasing, it is unlikely the product will be of the same class as the one you wish to buy, and you won't get proper support if (and when) things go wrong. Counterfeit tech can be dangerous, never mind a bad investment.
With that in mind, here are five things to consider when you think you may be purchasing a fake. If any of these tests runs up a red flag, run a mile. See also: Best laptops: What's the best laptop you can buy in the UK?
1. How to avoid buying fake technology: Price
This is the one thing you can check with confidence before you purchase, even if you are buying online. There are all sorts of reasons why you might see a staggeringly low price for a phone, tablet, laptop or any gadget. The trouble is, none of those reasons are good.
You can find a bargain, of course. But if you see a phone or a laptop being sold at less than half the price for which it is retailing elsewhere, be alarmed. It could be stolen, or a grey-market import on which tax hasn't been paid (and for which you may be charged). You may be ripped off by a dodgy retailer, or it could quite simply be a fake.
Always purchase from a reputable vendor, which has a UK street address and an entry at Companies' House. Always use a credit card when spending more than £100. And always query a deal that looks outstandingly good. If it looks too good to be true, it is. Be warned you can buy fakes from even the biggest resellers, such as Amazon or eBay. See also: Best smartphone: The best mobile phones you can buy.
2. How to avoid buying fake technology: Build and design - performance
As we mentioned above, if you are at all unsure about a device, you need to get your hands on it.
Generally speaking fakes are easy to spot. They may even be manufactured in the same place as the genuine article, but the makers are doing something to get the price down. Usually this relates to the materials and components used.
Pick up a phone, tablet, laptop or gadget. A fake will likely be surprisingly lightweight. Check the edges and joins, or any manufacturer badges. Look for shoddy workmanship, substandard materials. Fight the urge to accept the bargain, and remain skeptical. If it doesn't feel quite right, it isn't.
Finally, boot up the device (if you can). Use it. Get a feel for it. For example, a fake phone or laptop will likely have software that is at best pirated, and at worst a shoddy copy of the software it is supposed to run. We know you will be more inclined to buy a fake product online, but if you ahve the chance to try before you buy, then it's always good to test. See also: Best tablets: What is the best tablet?
3. How to avoid buying fake technology: Product code, details and features
Even if you can't get hold of the product you are considering purchasing, you can make sure you are buying what you think you are buying. The trouble with this is that an online retailer that is happy to sell a fake will likely not balk at lying about its specs on its website. But you should check closely for anomalies. The same retailer is unlikely to be the smartest on the block.
Compare the specs of the product you are considering with the specification published by the manufacturer. Find the manufacturer's product code and check that gainst the sales listing. Look up the IMEI for a phone and get details on how this fits into the legitimate list.
You can catch a fake by something as simple as it being the wrong colour, or even the wrong size. And look at the features list: For example, if the phone you are buying has only one camera, and the product you think you are buying has two, something is wrong.
Another thing to look out for here is accessories and updates. If your product has no UK plug adaptor it may be a grey-market import, or it could be a fake. Either way you should pause before buying.
4. How to avoid buying fake technology: Availability
Similar to point three, but a simple and surprisingly effective test. If your product isn't meant to be available in the UK, how is the vendor selling it to you? This is tricky because often the impetus behind your interest could be the rarity of the producy, or the version of the product, you think you are getting. But stop and think about it.
It could be a fake, it could be a dodgy import, it could be a scam site. If it looks like you are buying a product you shouldn't be able to buy, the likelihood is there is something wrong with the deal.
5. How to avoid buying fake technology: Warranty
One final check that is always worth carrying out is to look into the terms of the manufacturer's warranty. If you are buying electrical goods and the product and deal are legitimate, you should get a manufacturer's warranty. Where the warranty should promise replacement or repair - with a named product - if the product you are buying breaks.
None of these tests is in itself foolproof. But taken together they offer a reasonable safeguard against purchasing a fake. The key thing is not to allow yourself to be fooled: if any of these aspects seem wrong, abort your mission. Purchase in haste, repent at leisure.