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Five Ways To Avoid Buying Counterfeit Goods Online

Secondhand designer shopping gets a little tricky in the online world. Bereft of tactile senses, customers must consider new methods for spotting a fake. However, if you know what to look for, used luxury goods are a great way to save some money and score a really unique piece. Still a little nervous? Don't be. Here are five scam-proof tips to keep you safe:

1.) If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.
We can not stress this enough. Finding a Chanel, Hermés or Louis Vuitton bag for 75 percent off would feel like winning the lottery, right? Well, it's actually about as likely, if not less. Hitha Prabhakar, fashion writer and author of Black Market Billions: How Organized Retail Crime Funds Global Terrorists says if an in-demand item is put up for auction, "the open market will price it out—if it's real—to the price it's supposed to be."

2.) Research the seller or website you're buying from.
If you are bidding on eBay, check the user's overall rating and read some reviews. No one is going to have complete approval, but the number really shouldn't fall lower than 96 percent. Stock photos are also a red flag, don't ever purchase from someone who can't provide you with actual pictures of the merchandise.

If you are buying from an e-boutique that specializes in pre-owned product, look for the McAfee or Verisign stamps—these services verify site authenticity. Does the company have a brick and mortar store? If so, trying calling during business hours. Weird answering machines—or replies in the middle of the night—probably mean something is up.

Read the store's payment and return policy carefully and be wary if you are required to pay in cash. Although some instances require a wire transfer, they are rare and for very expensive items. If possible, try to checkout with Paypal; the company has a money-back guarantee on fake goods.

3.) Do your homework.
This might sound simpler than it is—even if you know the overall look of a designer item, there are lots of nuances to be aware of. Educate yourself on the exact logo, hardware and stitching of whatever you are considering. It also helps to visit an actual store to examine the real deal up close. Take pictures and compare them to the seller's images.

4.) Don't be afraid to ask lots and lots of questions.
Even gently worn luxury products are pricey, so be sure that you are getting your money's worth. If the vendor doesn't provide multiple shots of the items up front, ask for more and from every angle. See if they have an authenticity card, dust bag and box. Inquire about their return policy. If they get sketchy or defensive about fulfilling your queries, this is not someone you want to do business with.

5.) Trust your gut.
This is probably your best line of defense, so don't reason away your intuition. If multiples of the same sold-out product turn up or the logo looks slightly off, you aren't paranoid, you're just right. Walk away.

Looking for specifics on bags, watches, etc? We asked the experts for their best secondhand accessory shopping advice. Click through the slideshow to see what we learned:


Watches and Jewelry

Michelle Orman, the Senior Merchandising Director of Portero (renowned online for luxury item re-sale) told us the first thing to look for is a Hallmark stamp with the designer's name. All fine jewelry is required by law to include this. Double check that everything is spelled correctly and completely level—asymmetry spells fake.

Also, ask for close up shots of the piece's backing. This will give you a better idea of the craftsmanship quality. When you receive your item consider its weight and, with watches, the sweep of its second hand (it should be smooth, not jerky).

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Hermès Scarves

Since all Hermès products are handstiched, be sure to get detailed shots of the edges. Look for inconsistencies, uniformity is a telltale sign of factory production.

Jennifer Maddalena, founder of New Jersey based store The Couture Exchange, told us that every pattern incorperates the Hermès logo, even if some are tougher to find. After locating it, do your research. Does it match up with the original? Is the font correct? If the seller provides an accompanying box, compare it to one from the Hermès store. It should be a certain shade of orange with a brown stripe. Again, if something is even remotely amiss, you are probably dealing with a fraud.

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It is imperative you get a good look at the shoes' seam. "The biggest clue is the stiching," Jennifer Maddalena told us. "A very well-made shoe is going to have one seam."

If you're still stumped, ask to look at the dustbag. If the logo is off or the handiwork is shoddy, then the shoes definitly aren't real.

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Hermès belts, like scarves, are all about the quality of stitching: handwork looks drastically different from that of machines (i.e. there should be imperfections). However, if you are looking at a piece from a different designer, the seams should be more uniform.

Also be aware of the hardware, know what metals were used by which brand for each seasons. After receiving it in the mail, consider its weight. Like jewelry and watches, anything authentic should be extra heavy.

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Designer handbags have few commonalities, regardless of brand. Portero's Director of Accessories, Elizabeth Bernstein, says to check the inside seam for a date stamp, which is a leather or paper tag indentifing the product as authentic. If you can't find this, look for a hologram sticker with the brand's logo.

If you do a little vintage investigating, you can learn excatly what a company's hologram or stamp looked like each season. If it's a current model, "visit the store and look at the real thing," says Elizabeth.

Request as much information as possible from the vendor; if you can, look at the dust bag, authenticity card and original box before buying. Much like belts, stiching and hardware are also important. Knowledge is power! So be sure you know what to look for.

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