Spot fake stuff in Asia & Africa when you travel

Learn how to avoid getting conned into buying fake things on holiday

My Experience of Buying Fake Things when Traveling

After living in West Africa for several years fake goods become a daily part of life. In fact it's hard to get the real thing. From pirated movies, memory cards, laptops, batteries, computer software and electronics to designer jeans, bags, shoes and sunglasses buying fake is not so hard.

For me, there are pro's and con's to buying fake stuff. I'm not advocating either, this is just my experience of fake goods when traveling. Copyrights, author royalties, infringement of consumer rights I am putting aside and not arguing about here.

This is directed at the traveler and the practicalities of what they will be faced with traveling around the world when it comes to buying things.

Overcoming the biggest problem of fake goods

How to tell fake stuff apart from the real? You're in a little shop in Kathmandu and need a new memory card. But, they all look the same! Even in New York it's easy to pick up a fake by mistake these days.

Read on through individual sections to get a better look a fake stuff the world over as you travel.

Worst / best countries for fake stuff

Here's my list of countries from where I have been so far where the amount of fake stuff available can make your head boggle - West Africa, Iran, India, Nepal, Philippines. There are others, but they are the worst. Where it's downright hard to get something that's not fake. SEA is a hotbed to say the least.

But, on my way through Spain, France and Turkey, I spotted them in some of the more 'back street' markets as well.

China had surprisingly little fake stuff on offer. Well ... kinda. A lot of the stuff within the internal market in China is reproduced from originals under a new name. So therefore can't be classified as fake.

More worryingly to the traveler passing through, is that certain big international brands, sell items with different specifications in certain countries.

Understanding the "real" fakes

Ever try to buy a brand name laptop in China? It's not as cheap as the U.S.A. It's also not likely to come with an international warranty. Why? Take Sony, the latest VAIO laptop is on sale in China. The price is good enough, but, read the small print.

The laptop is only for sale within China, and is built specifically for the Chinese market. It's got a different code, it looks the same as its U.S.A. counterpart but it's one digit different. It's made by Sony, but it's not the same machine as the one on the International Sony site. Then again, there's always the Sony look alike laptops!

This is all very legal. It's a company's right to sell a different machine to just one country. But, if you are an international traveler, watch out!

A product built specifically for one country or region only, may not have the same requirements that you are used to. Health and Safety regulations differ the world over. Buying a cheap i-phone rip off in Thailand? Think about manufacturer and Thai safety standards. Do you really think its as radiation proof as its U.S.A. counterpart? And as for the battery ...

All about fake DVD's

They are all over Africa and Asia. Not just fake DVD's of last years best sellers. But DVD's of the latest movies before they have even come out in the cinema. Sometimes months before hand.

What's more, many single DVD's come with 20+ of the latest movies. And the cost. USD$1.50. Now how tempting is that? The quality varies. Buying fake movies before they are released often gives you one of two things.

A guy with a camcorder in a prescreening, not the best quality. Usually dark, and if the guy has a cold or is eating popcorn ... you'll want to do damage to him. Or more rarely a pristine prerelease version of the movie, sometimes lacking a soundtrack, but perfect otherwise.

20+ movies per DVD will lack just about all DVD sub features, like scene selections and subtitles. Though sometimes really really bad english subtitles are available that make little sense grammar wise. Though I notice these being phased out now.

Even fake DVD's have standards

Single DVD movie's are of a higher standard, and often include the extras. The movies been downgraded, a little, but for laptop viewing after a hard days sight seeing or travel, no issues.

These days BlueRay movie copies are also available on DVD. Superior quality by far, and cheap. Under USD$0.50 for a new release. Again, the image is not perfect, call it analog-blue-ray viewing.

Buying fake DVD's

Keep in mind if you are buying any of these pirated movies then you should try to buy from a seller with a working DVD player to test them first. Often times the audio is out of synch.

The sellers are pretty good at exchanging bad copies though. If there's no DVD player, check the disk for scratches and discoloring - a sign of a poor copy. Don't bring your laptop down to the local market, too much hassle and you're asking for trouble.

Even though some countries blatantly sell pirated movies all over the streets and in shops, just remember they are illegal. Buying them in front of a crooked/straight cop is not a good idea. Neither is shipping back home. Though many people do.

Strip off the packaging and just send the DVD's. If you've got yourself a boxed set of your favorite TV series, send the empty box back separately no matter how good it looks. Customs will stop a big box of DVD's you've stored up over your travels and you might have a nasty knock on your door when you get home from traveling.

Avoiding Fake Memory Cards

I hate them! They can wipe out weeks, or months of your photographs, video or data in an instant. "Card Error" is a killer sign no one wants to see. There are three main types of fake memory card. Cheap fake cards, copies of fakes, and, 'really, bad' cards.

Cheap Fake Memory cards are the type that look like the real deal. Kingston, Sony, and Sandisk are popular brands that are often copied. If you are buying a brand like this then check out their websites first. Some like Sandisk have a section warning you about fakes and how to spot them.

Companies hinder fake memory cards

After that, take note of how the real packaging looks. Though keep in mind, the packaging style and color does change region to region - well done marketers.

Avoid fake memory cards at all costs

Copies of fakes are easier to spot. These are brands you have never heard of before. Some look incredibly good, and may be perfect or utter trash. Others are in bad cheap packaging, and instant trash.

'Really, bad' cards are a serious problem in some regions. These are real direct from the manufacturer cards that failed the Quality Control Checks. Bad Batches.

They should have been trashed, or recycled back. But 'somehow' they have been leaked out onto the market. They look perfect, but after a few days, weeks, or months will start producing errors and formatting issues will arise. The only way to protect yourself here, is to buy from a reputable seller. Pretend your are an expat living there. Get receipts. Test before buy. And, hope.

Fake Phones

Need an I-phone? Want to buy one for USD$30? They're out there! Even on Ebay you can pick up a fake PDA, I-phone, i-pad or whatever the latest phone model is. China Phone is a common term in Asia.

While some are mirror images, others are rip-offs that look similar, but will have different software and operating abilities. If you're buying one, you have to test the thing out for a period of time in store first.

What's different about a fake phone?

It might look like a Sony Ericsson, or Apple's latest, but turn it on and hear a strange Chinese techno chime chirp out. Turn on the 8MP camera phone, take a photo, and see something equivalent to a 1.2MP camera. Then scroll through the operating system. Look at the organizer, hmm, it's in Chinese. Or, 'function not available'.

Some of these phones like CECT, are actually really good. They won't offer quite the smart phone experience, but 90% of the smart phone is there. CECT are a Chinese phone company that blatantly rip off other phone designs, and churn out 100's of new models. They work pretty much like the original too. Though I really don't know about the radiation issue with these phones. The company is protected by China's non international prosecution laws and so get away with it.

More than just the legal issues. CECT have shown just how cheap phones are to produce. And, in turn are showing just how much of a mark up western prices really are!

Fake Batteries

Before this page came about, I created a whole page on how to spot fake batteries here.

Fake Electronics (general)

ITV's, DVD players, Mp3 players, Mp4 Players and even Mp5 players are all over certain regional markets. I am sure the legit Panasonic company cringe at seeing 'Pansonic' (note the spelling) selling something very similar to their own TVs out there. Likewise Sanyo and Sonyo, GE and GW and or course Sony and Sany. By next week I'm sure half of them will change their packaging and names again. It's a constant fight to stay ahead of the game.

Why do people by fake electronics?

Plug in and switch on that fake DVD player, and notice all the extras that the real one does not have. All regions available, USB support, and a Karaoke option. Okay the last one may not be for everyone. But, the things work, and are very cheap. USD$10 for a DVD player. And again, they work. Okay, the life span may not be so great. But I know some to go years without a glitch. A main worry here, is fire. What's inside them? I wouldn't leave them plugged in when not in use. Better for the environment too!

Fake Mp3/4 players have got to the stage whereby many companies don't even try to copy the real names anymore. The little Nano players all look the same. Shame in 3 months 'Card Error' will tell you you've just lost everything. Or better yet, the cheap plastic case cracks under your thumb. Again, try to aim for brand name stores here. Unless you have your music collection backed up.

Then there's the Mp5 player, No it's not the latest format of media it's marketing. Basically any music or video format can be played, and it comes with a host of cheap games. Lot's of fun, same problems as above though.

Same same, but different

Here's an interesting thing to note. Many top brand name manufacturers such as Mitsubishi sell the same product under a different lesser known brand name for a lot less money. Why? People like brand names, they feel safer with them. And so, the company can charge more for the product.

Realizing that there's a whole other market of people who just want cheap, big brand companies started to produce the exact same product under a different brand name.

The result - much cheaper price, same internal workings. Reading the manuals, can reveal a lot. And save you some money. Just watch out for the fakes, misspellings are a key thing.

Fake or Copied Software?

You don't even have to travel abroad to get fake or copied software. And, just like the internet the same problems exist. Some of the CD's / DVD's of software for sale simply don't work. Other's have been modified to show off the hackers custom logo's, or worse still custom viruses or security leaks.

Game's are commonly copied and widely available from street side vendors. Though looking harmless I would never let it them touch a secure computer with internet access. It's simply not worth it when traveling. Besides, you're traveling and shouldn't have time for games!

Alternatives to fake software

If your laptop breaks down on the road and you need to reinstall software when traveling. Do your security a favor. For an operating system, install Linux. Its fast, free and secure and easily available.

On windows if you need office software, there's openoffice free, and just as good for travel needs. Likewise Linux and opensource options can give you a photo editing application and just about everything you need to use on the road. While it might not be what you are used to, it's better than having a system open to hackers. Or,more immediate, having pirated software corrupt all your data, so you loose everything again!

Fake Food

Yes, some people are even making fake food. I've not come across direct fake's yet. As in fake Snickers bars - Just serious look alike's. Most are Chinese and Middle East confectionary products that will taste different anyway.

Pringle's that are known as Kracks, and Chocolate bars known as Ming Bars an Snakkers. The taste is lesser than the original, but more worryingly are the ingredients.

China's food standards are well documented. The next time you see a tube of Pringle look alike's, or some cheap chocolate, have a look at the ingredients. If they're in english that is. Chemical Ali must have have had a hobby. The more genuine of these products at least carries a warning about not to be sold or consumed outside of Asia.

Fake Clothes and Accessories

Perhaps the better known of fake stuff is the clothing market. Shopping holidays are well known about. Cheap Levi's in Asia are one of the oldest travel treats. Levi's cracked down hard a few years ago, but the business is still out there.

In countries where the real brand is cheaply produced by manual labor, it's easy to start up a side business.

How to spot fake clothes

The key thing to look out for here is quality of work. That designer shirt looks great, but turn it inside out and look at the stitching. Tug at it, and see if it separates. Loose threads and buttons are also key. What's not easy to spot is color fastness. Quite often after a few washes the once bright blue, is not a dull pastel color.

Likewise with bags. Check the handles, often a place of problems. That genuine leather handle is probably a look alike plastic and won't bear up to weight, or much movement before cracking. In truth, they don't often last long.

If it's sitting on a market stall and says Gucci, and is at a rock bottom price, then it's most likely a fake.

Those Rayban sunglasses for $1 ... chances are they are not 100% UVA proof.

If it's in a bottle and says Calvin Cline, then the same thing goes. But, here take note of something else. Fake cologne, and perfume comes with several additional and immediate problems. They are not tested products. And if they are, I hate to think of the animal testing going on. Quite often with fake perfumes you'll notice a little rash appearing after wearing it for a few hours, or worse yet allergies. Watch out!

Fake Jewelry is similar. I won't go into fake diamonds from India here, but really don't expect much from cheap fake stuff. If you're buying super expensive Jewelry, and are worried about it being fake. Bring an expert. if you're buying cheaper jewelry, realize that the ultra bargain is likely to be fake. Allergic reactions to cheap metal are common. As is tarnishing and bad workmanship.

A summary of the basics on how to spot fake things

I covered a lot of this in each individual section so I'll just point out the basics here again in a general sense.

(1) Check the packaging to make sure its in good condition
(2) Colors, check packaging and products for color consistency, and depth. Quality is key.
(3) Spellings, check for misspellings or bad English, grammar etc, on manuals or labels.
(4) Labels, fake clothes and accessories don't often have inner labels.
(5) If it's so cheap you can't believe it, then it probably is fake!

Should I buy fake stuff or not?

That's for you to decide. At the end of the day, something's are a part of everyday life in countries you travel through. A DVD with 20 of the latest Movies for USD$1 while traveling for months in Asia can be a welcome relief. Especially if you are sick and held up in a room somewhere. Quite often, it's hard to get anything else.

A new fake 8 GB Memory for USD$5 to store all your travel photos, for me, is not worth it. All those places you traveled offer a memory just for that moment. Going back again simply isn't the same, nor always possible. For me the risk is too much.

Traveling? Looking for ideas on what to pack? Have a look at my travel gadget list or my travel packing list.

Please note the above is based on my own personal experience. I don't endorse nor recommend any products nor procedures. If you find this information helpful, then that's a good thing.