How to Spot China Fakes

Got a call the other day from a reporter trying to track down whether “half” of all of a particular product sold in the United States are faked in China. In fairness to this reporter, I am not going to mention the particular product until his story runs, but I will say it is a product I know very well. My first reaction was that this was not possible because I had never seen a fake in a legitimate US store and there is no way anything close to half of this product could be sold on the streets and back alleys.

But the reporter then told me how a massive shipment of fakes had recently been seized and their quality was nearly perfect, right down to the holograms. Short of deconstructing the product and analyzing its materials, there would have been no way to know.

We then talked about how two of the leading companies in this industry have stellar reputations for fighting fakes and how they are always touting their prowess in this. They certainly convey that fakes are incredibly rare and easy to spot. Neither of these companies would talk to this reporter and since he is from an internationally renowned newspaper, we both wondered whether this failure was telling.

I mentioned how I have always been concerned about fakes and bad product and how because of that I almost never buy generics. I talked of how there had just been some problems in the United States with spices from China contaminated with salmonella. I said that I had heard someone from McCormick Spices talk about how it ensures food safety from farm to store and from that moment on I had switched to buying only McCormick spices. Of course it is possible this person was not telling the truth or that their methods are not really so state of the art and I simply do not know any better, but I doubt it. I generally believe companies with a strong brand usually will do whatever they can to protect that brand.

How can I be certain the McCormick spices I buy on the shelf at my local grocery store are even really McCormick’s? I can’t, but again, I can play the odds.If I buy from a reputable grocery store, the odds are far better. What else can we do?

I remember a couple years ago being at the Dalian airport with a stuffy nose. To avoid a potential headache from taking off and landing, I purchased a decongestant. The store in the airport had a nice array of American-branded decongestants, but their prices seemed just a bit too low (I think maybe 50 cents for a package that in the US would cost around four dollars). I nonetheless purchased a box and then I examined everything to determine whether it was the real-deal or not. The box struck me as a bit flimsy, but I attributed that to the China market. The pills themselves looked and smelled absolutely perfect.

I then started reading the instructions, which were in both English and Chinese (which made sense to me). It took a while, but by the time I had finished reading the instructions, I had found a number of typographical and grammatical errors. These errors caused me to conclude I had purchased a fake and, rather than risk ingesting something of questionable provenance, I threw everything away and boarded my plan with my stuffy nose intact.

I have Chinese lawyer friends who tell me they will no longer pay big money for Baijou anywhere in China (no matter how high end the brand or the store) because they believe half or more are not the real thing. China recently had a problem with fake green peas. In 2006, I did a post on fake law firms in China. I still occasionally hear of foreign companies getting duped in China by people falsely claiming to be Chinese lawyers.

How bad is the problem of fakes? In China? In the United States? In Europe? What about safety? What can we do to spot the fakes?