Buying a counterfeit perfume may seem harmless…until you discover what’s really in that bottle could be toxic chemicals, or worse.
Everyone loves a bargain. So when a friend of mine found her favorite perfume, Red Door by Elizabeth Arden, at a flea market, she was thrilled. But then her gut instinct kicked in, thinking it sounds a little too good to be true, she still purchased the Red Door and a bottle of Chanel No. 5 for $14 each. When she sprayed on the Red Door, it was a little strong and not the same smell she was use to. Putting it on her wrist and elbow crease and a little behind her ear. Later when looking in the mirror, it looked like she was sun-burnt on those same areas she had applied the perfume earlier. Her skin felt extremely hot and a welt was forming on her neck. After an emergency call to her dermatologist and a dose of prescription cortisone, she was fine. She ended up throwing out the so called “bargain” fragrances.
Every day, anti-counterfeiting agents are hard at work trying to make sure others don’t go through what my friend did. A couple years ago during the holiday season in New York City, a team of investigators and lawyers were hired by a luxury French fragrance company. An operative bought a bottle of what seemed to be the French perfume from a vendor’s table wrapped in cellophane. The operative brought the purchase back to the van where it was confirmed to being a fake. The crooked label and off-kilter bottle cap were sure signs of fraud. The team poured out of the van, quickly surrounding the vendor’s table.
With a seizure order by a federal judge allowed them to seize the goods. As some investigators searched bins under the table and in a near by van, others spoke to the man behind the table. His claim is that he had no idea the perfumes were fake, and he buys from a wholesaler. He would not say where the wholesaler was located or a give any information regarding the wholesaler. The team boxed up a few dozen bottles of the French employer’s brand and gave the seller a receipt for the product seized.
The entire city was covered that day and it was made very clear to the vendors if they continue to sell that brand that they will go after them.
When customs and law enforcement get involved, counterfeiters have bigger worries. At a Newark, New Jersey raid, a shipment of phony perfumes with a retail value of nearly $5 million was seized. In busts like this, the merchandise is destroyed or held to be used as evidence in court. If convicted of trademark counterfeiting, a trafficker can face up to $5 million in fines and 20 years in jail.
Fashion counterfeiting is increasingly driven underground, fragrance is the latest front in the fight against fakes. Wasting your money on a street Gucci tote may hurt your wallet when the flimsy strap snaps, but it’s unlikely to physically harm you. Counterfeit perfumes, however, suddenly seem to be everywhere – at flea markets, on the street side tables and they can actually make you sick. Fragrance is absorbed by your body through your skin. Counterfeit fragrances have not been subjected to the quality control test and research and development on which legitimate makers spend a lot of money and time on to insure a safe product. Fakes have been found to contain contaminated alcohol, antifreeze, urine and harmful bacteria.
The bottom line: counterfeiters will continue to chase after profits, and legitimate companies and law enforcement will try to stop them. But as consumers we need to educate ourselves.
HOW TO SPOT A FAKE FRAGRANCE:
TAKE A CLOSER LOOK. If the liquid looks too pale, it could be an alcohol-heavy phony. If it’s too dark, it could consist of impure of faux ingredients.
READ THE LABEL. If the label is off-kilter, smudged, poorly printed, or misspelled, its not legit. If the bar code or an identifying mark looks sketchy, it could be a phony.
DON’T BE FOOLED. Real fragrances are not sold on tables in tourist hot spots or at flea markets, supermarkets, discount stores or out of the back of a truck.
BEWARE THE BATE AND SWITCH. Some unsavory vendors will display the genuine fragrance up front when you’re shopping but substitute a fake when handing over your purchase.
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