China is notorious for knockoff goods, including fake versions of popular apparel brands, electronic gadgets, and luxury goods. As a result, Chinese consumers have been turning to authentication services to verify that the goods they buy are geniune.
Now, ironically, some of the services designed to fight counterfeits have been revealed to be bogus, as well.
China’s state-run media Beijing Youth Daily reported on Aug. 27 the story of Ms. Zhang, who went to an authentication service for a luxury brand shoulder bag purchased through an online platform in July. The service later confirmed Zhang’s suspicions—the bag was a knockoff.
Zhang then confronted the platform where she bought her bag. The platform denied the bag was a knockoff and offered her the name of a company where she could take the bag to check its authenticity. After logging onto the website of the authentication company provided by the platform, Zhang realized that company was a fake: The content of the website, including its logo, was copied directly from the website of the first service she had used.
Beijing Youth Daily said that the fake authentication-service company didn’t reply to requests for comment.
China is the source of most of the world’s counterfeit goods, and the U.S. market is one of the key destinations. According to a 2017 report on intellectual property rights (IPR) seizures by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, all counterfeits originating from Hong Kong and China that were seized by U.S. customs agents in 2017 would have a value of about $940 million if the goods were authentic.
In China, an industry dedicated to luxury brand authentication services has grown steadily in recent years, due to widespread counterfeiting of products.
Many fake goods are sold through e-commerce platforms such as Alibaba’s Taobao and Pinduoduo. In January, the U.S. Trade Representative placed Taobao on its Notorious Markets list of marketplaces that engage in, benefit from, or turn a blind eye to counterfeiting, for the second consecutive year over its suspected counterfeits.
In January, a Chinese netizen asked for help on Zhihu, China’s equivalent to Quora, seeking information about reliable authentication services for luxury goods. He explained that he needed the information because a good friend of his nearly broke up with his wife after a Givenchy product he had bought for her turned out to be fake.
Liang Chen quit his job as a dentist after 10 months to become an assistant in the production authentication department of an e-commerce company, according to a May 2016 report on Chinese news portal Sina. He explained that he wanted to become a luxury authentication expert, a profession that he said had better potential for a career.
Authentication skills usually include examining sewing lines, buttonhole size, and type of leather on handbags. For items with metal attached, one can learn how to differentiate between cheap and expensive materials.
There are also classes that teach people how to become a luxury authentication expert. But even some of these classes are fraudulent, according to a May 16 article by China’s state-run China Youth Daily, citing the example of a class in Beijing that promised to teach people to become an expert in six days.