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Consumers Stuck

Regardless of where a fake comes from, you probably won't know it's bogus until you try to get the nominal maker to service it. In one case, customers bought what they thought was high-performance PC RAM from OCZ Technology several years ago; it turned out to be an inferior phony product bearing the OCZ label.

According to Alex Mei, vice president of marketing for OCZ, the counterfeit memory led to freezes, crashes, or PCs that wouldn't start. OCZ traced the illegitimate memory to an online store and demanded that the store stop selling the fakes.

Though OCZ had no legal obligation to do so, it sent replacement RAM to many of the victims who had complained about the bogus modules; the complaints were dealt with case-by-case, Mei says.

OCZ's generous response is the exception, not the rule: Consumers have no legal recourse with the legitimate brand-name manufacturer; instead, they must try to get their money back from the store where they purchased the phony goods.

Many vendors state that the company's warranty doesn't cover bogus goods; others deal with each return separately. If you innocently obtain a fake copy of Windows, you may qualify for a legitimate replacement from Microsoft: Visit www.microsoft.com/genuine to find out more or to file a report if a seller is unhelpful when you try to return a suspect product.

Vendors such as HP, Kingston, and Motorola say they usually learn about counterfeiting problems as a result of consumer complaints like the ones OCZ received. Given the international scope of the problem, that's unlikely to change. Good bargains do exist: Most of the low-cost merchandise PC World bought for this story worked and was genuine. But your best safeguard against phony hardware is to shop skeptically.

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