Some people knowingly buy counterfeit products as a way to save money. On the other hand, some unsuspecting consumers become victims of buying a knockoff unknowingly. In both cases, however, the harmful effects and consumers’ penalties for buying counterfeit goods remain the same. Irrespective of the intentions, consumers suffer not only financial loss but many other indirect losses, too.

A knockoff of a Hermes or Louis Vuitton item looks just like the real thing but only costs a fraction of the price. It might seem like an attractive bargain to own a replica while giving the appearance of having a legitimate product.

But did you know that buying and carrying such fake products can get you in legal trouble? For example, the customs authority at Paris airport can seize counterfeit products with a fine of up to 300,000 pounds, even if you were a victim of a counterfeiter.

But there are those consumers, too, who buy what they think is a legitimate product, totally unaware that they have a knockoff. With the rise of online shopping, the risk of getting a counterfeit has increased further.

In either case, there is harm associated with the purchase of counterfeit goods, and the law treats both cases in the same way. This means that no matter whether a consumer is aware that they are buying a counterfeit product, they are legally liable for it and may have to pay a penalty for buying counterfeit goods.

Not only that, your single action of buying a counterfeit could be supporting terrorist groups,  eroding tax money, and even resulting in unemployment. This isn’t an exaggeration – the network of counterfeiters is widespread and transnational, as discussed later in this article.

Legal risks of buying counterfeit goods as consumers

Buying counterfeits might seem like just another way of saving some money, but there are legal risks you can encounter.

The legal penalties for buying counterfeits differ from nation to nation. Here are some examples:


Countries like France and Italy are the home to many luxury brands, and as a result, the anti-counterfeiting laws are stricter. For example, in France, consumers who buy counterfeits could be asked to pay fines of up to 500,000 pounds along with the item getting confiscated.

In 2012, to raise awareness about the law among tourists, the Comite Colbert Committee hosted a campaign in and around Paris airports. The campaign hosted thousands of posters with sayings such as, “Real ladies don’t like fake! In France, buying or carrying a counterfeit product is a criminal offense.” The owner of such counterfeit would be imposed with a fine of

What’s more, the French customs officers go through rigorous training to spot fakes. If a consumer is carrying any product with a visible brand logo or trademark on it, they open themselves to legal scrutiny. In 2022 alone, French customs seized more than 11 million items and four million counterfeit cigarette packets. The worth of the seized items was estimated to be

The most commonly seized items were counterfeit handbags, clothes, watches, footwear, and toys, pharmaceutical products.

The French customs also notifies the brands about the counterfeits and the brand can choose to open a separate civil or criminal case against you.

Similarly, Rome airport showcases glass cases filled with confiscated knockoffs and warns consumers of the same legal risk. In Italy, you could pay up to 10,000 euros in fines for buying counterfeits.

United States of America

In the United States federal law, under 18 U.S. Code Section 2320, it is a crime to manufacture, distribute, and sell counterfeit products. While this law doesn’t include buying counterfeit products as illegal, it can directly impact you.

For example, if you try to resell a counterfeit item that you unknowingly bought, you can face fines or even time behind bars based on the severity of the crime. However, the problem is if you unknowingly resell the counterfeit item, you’d still be liable to the law.

In New York City, shoppers face fines of up to $1,000 for buying fake designer handbags, which helps dispel the idea that counterfeit merchandise is a bargain and a victimless crime.

Other Penalties of Counterfeits for Consumers

The risks of counterfeits are far-reaching and go beyond just the financial damage. Many indirect results affect consumers ultimately.

Societal Risks

Counterfeiters add a burden on taxpayers’ money as law enforcement acts to curb these illegal activities. Not only that  spend additional money on research and development to stay ahead of the counterfeiters. This might eventually be reflected in the final product price paid by buyers.

A lot of times, consumers don’t think about the end use of the counterfeit goods money. Consumers might not even think of buying counterfeits as an illegal activity. It might simply be thought of as access to the latest fashion. However, the money might be financing organized crime groups. It also directly impacts legitimate brands and industries.

The money collected from the sale of counterfeits might be funding terrorism, too, along with human trafficking. For example, counterfeit products sale was found to be partially financing the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in 2015 and the Madrid Train bombings in 2004.

Health risks

Counterfeit products are of poorer quality than genuine articles. What’s important to emphasize, however, is that counterfeit goods aren’t just

Counterfeit cosmetics, for example, don’t follow the same safety and quality standards that legitimate merchandise is subjected to. They are made as quickly and cheaply as possible, and that often means including materials that are not considered safe for use on the skin and in some cases are carcinogenic.

One of the most dangerous risks of counterfeits is in the pharmaceutical industry. Counterfeit pharma products might cause a lifetime of irreversible damage to consumers. There are uncountable cases of compromised medicines causing deaths and disabilities to consumers. Even items like sun-protective glasses could cause long-term damage because of the compromised quality.

Counterfeit tobacco might also contain life-threatening chemicals like arsenic and cadmium, on top of a possible higher percentage of nicotine. This is because counterfeits don’t go through the rigorous quality checks and regulations as their original counterparts.

Another example is counterfeit safety equipment, such as children’s bicycle helmets. These helmets don’t undergo the required safety and reliability tests, so they aren’t guaranteed to protect in the case of an accident. These products can cause real harm to people.

Here are just a few other examples of the ways counterfeit products pose risks to consumers:

  • Counterfeit batteries in electronics can malfunction and explode or spontaneously ignite.
  • Counterfeit airplane and vehicle parts may not function as intended, leading to accidents.
  • Counterfeit e-cigarettes may overheat and explode, injuring the user.
  • Counterfeit toys for children can contain lead components, which are harmful to young people.

Why are consumers buying counterfeit goods?

The illegal counterfeiting industry takes advantage of the unsuspecting consumers’ hunt for bargains and cheaper prices. On top of it, a lot of countries don’t have strict regulations against counterfeiting, which encourages the imitators to continue their illegal activities.

What’s more, the replicated products have evolved in sophistication. With access to the latest technology and information, counterfeiters can make replicas that are so close to the original product that a consumer can’t differentiate between the two.

They can go as far as creating fake business front companies to disguise their illegal trade. This makes it difficult to catch them and they continue their practices.

This means a lot of people might be getting a fake copy while thinking they’re buying an original product. Many people still believe that counterfeits are easily identifiable by their poor quality, misspelled brand names, and other telltale signs. But the truth is that many counterfeit products are virtually indistinguishable from the genuine article—so much so that even the brands themselves can’t tell their real products from fakes.

What can you do to avoid penalties as a consumer?

As a consumer, the first and foremost thing to do is to stop buying counterfeits intentionally. Even if the fake product is lower in price, the risks of the purchase outweigh the seemingly financial gain. These actions directly harm the environment, society, businesses, and consumers.

Secondly, you need to be aware while shopping. For example, if a price is too good to be true, it probably is. Unfortunately, today, even price can’t be a good indicator of the replicas. This is why companies are incorporating different security features like covert security to protect you from buying counterfeits.

Consumers who suspect they’ve unknowingly bought a counterfeit item can pursue a few different options for setting things right. First, they can try taking the item back to the original retailer. In the UK, shoppers are entitled to a full refund on counterfeit items within 30 days of purchase. Sellers who refuse to issue a refund violate the law and can be pursued legally. Items bought online are generally more difficult to report, but a good place to start is filing a report with the site’s customer support service.

Protect yourself from counterfeits and legal risks

Counterfeiting is a problem that affects everyone, and even unsuspecting consumers may find themselves in legal hot water if they are the owner of a counterfeit good. From paying fines to time behind bars, countries are getting stricter with anti-counterfeit laws and provisions. Counterfeiters not only erode the nation of taxes but also endanger people with their possible association with human trafficking, terrorism, poor labor conditions, and more.

With the creation and distribution of illegitimate products on the rise, it’s important for shoppers everywhere to stay aware and educated to protect themselves from counterfeit goods.

At AlpVision, our mission is to stop counterfeiting in its tracks and help both manufacturers and consumers stay on the right side of the law, and stop bad actors from flooding the marketplace with cheap imitations. Download our whitepaper to get access to the latest information on anti-counterfeiting technologies and how to spot


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