Fakes!

Shopping Tips: Countering the Counterfeiters

Rock-bottom prices on brand-name technology gear may net you no real bargains. Unless you're careful you might get stuck with an unreliable product. Distinguishing the knockoffs from the genuine article is tricky, but here are some shopping tips, along with a few indicators that should raise red flags when you're hunting for good deals.

1. Be careful where you buy: To find a trusted reseller online or at a brick-and-mortar location near you, visit the product manufacturer's Web site. There, in many cases, you can find a complete list of authorized, legitimate dealers.

2. Avoid too-good-to-be-true pricing: Before you buy, find out the price that major sellers or the manufacturer charges for the product. Pricing can be competitive online, but there are limits. For example, PC World bought the counterfeit Nokia battery for less than half what the real one cost at authorized dealers. Such deep discounts are unlikely to be legitimate. Also, some dealers do a bait and switch: You think you're purchasing one set of parts--say, Micron memory--but the dealer sends you an obscure or less-costly (to the retailer) brand instead.

3. Pay attention to performance problems: Counterfeit computer memory can lead to PC system freezes or crashes. Fake inkjet cartridges may produce substandard printouts, have a shorter-than-expected life span, and leak all over the inside of your printer. A bogus cell phone battery may overheat, yield reduced airtime, or even explode. Make sure the product meets your PC's required specs before you buy, and keep track of your device's performance before and after the new purchase; if it isn't performing properly, demand your money back.

4. Check with vendors: Visit the vendor's Web site to see if it has an authentication program through which you can check serial numbers and the like to verify your product's legitimacy. For example, Nokia batteries have a holographic logo and a hidden serial number that customers can uncover and then look up online or via text message; Kingston offers a similar online verification method, where you type in the serial number of a suspect memory module to investigate it.

5. Beware of auctions: Many auction sites offer very competitive prices, but some may sell fake merchandise. Check seller ratings carefully, and consult with the Better Business Bureau to research sellers that operate storefronts at auction sites like eBay.

Tom Spring

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