Michael S. James writes for abcnews.com that the scotch you love to drink, your favorite shampoo, that watch you like to wear?all these and many other items you use and own could all be fakes. There are fake versions of almost everything for sale: auto parts, drugs, toys, cosmetics and even vintage wines, artwork and airplane parts. Author David M. Hopkins says, “It’s now possible to fake everything.”

He says, “It’s not just the contents. It’s the ability to fake the packaging. It’s the ability to fake the labels. In some cases, it’s certificates of authenticity. Everything is fake.”

Although the worst problem is abroad, where fakes are less regulated, there?s a thriving market in fake goods here in the U.S. as well. “We reckon that counterfeiting accounts for about 5 to 7% of world trade every year, which equates to a figure of approximately $350 billion,” says crime investigator Peter Lowe. The San Diego FBI estimates that as much as 50 to 90% of sports memorabilia on the U.S. market could be fake.

It can be dangerous: A counterfeit bolt may have caused a 1989 plane crash in Scandinavia that killed 55 people, and fake medicine is blamed for the 1990 deaths of dozens of children in Nigeria. Last year, the FDA warned pharmacists to beware of counterfeit Epogen, a drug that treats anemia, which was 20 times weaker than the real thing.

How to spot a fake? Look for obvious signs like misspellings and typographical errors, incorrect packaging or brand logos. If you buy a brand-name product from a street vendor, you’re sure to get a fake. But sometimes even legitimate stores sell fakes, Lowe says, because of “high profit” and “low risk.”

“Some can be quite deceptive,” Hopkins says. “If [the product] you’re buying is packaged in something that looks authentic, shrink-wrapped?you don’t know for sure whether that’s authentic software or not.”

Even the companies that make the goods can’t always tell the difference. “Some manufacturers have said to me that we can’t really tell the fake from the genuine unless we really take them to bits and examine the pieces,” Lowe says. “There’s a recent case in the U.K. where Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky was counterfeited. It actually contained methanol, which is a harmful substance. The fake was actually a fairly convincing one?You could only really tell the slight differences when you had the genuine and the fake articles side by side.”

There’s a lesson we can take from all this, if we want to. Aside from dangerous dupes, when we discover we’re using a fake version of an expensive product, we should ask ourselves if we were just as happy with it, before we knew the truth. That might tell us we’re buying it for the brand name rather than what’s really in it and convert us to the cheaper, generic items.

Are UFOs and ETs real or fake? Decide for yourself by listening to Lisette Larkins on this week’s Dreamland.

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