Fakebook: Site Touts Luxury Goods That May Not Be What They Seem

Photographer: Richard I'Anson/Getty Images

Counterfeit handbags. Close

Counterfeit handbags.

Photographer: Richard I'Anson/Getty Images

Counterfeit handbags.

That $2,000 Louis Vuitton handbag advertised on Facebook for just $239? Yeah, it's too good to be true.

New research by two Italian cyber-security experts found that about a quarter of the fashion and luxury ads they examined on Facebook are for knockoffs. The ads, touting things such as $180 Ray-Ban Aviator eyewear for less than $30, linked to bogus e-commerce sites registered by Chinese front companies, according to Andrea Stroppa and Agostino Specchiarello.

Their research is based on a review of more than a thousand ads, including 180 in the category of luxury and fashion. Of those, 43 pointed to counterfeit stuff.

Facebook says it goes to great lengths to find illegitimate listings and to respond to requests for removal. The social network reviews and takes action on reports of illegal ads that are made to the company, a spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail. "We prohibit fraudulent or misleading claims or content, and to enforce our terms and policies, we have invested significant resources in developing a robust advertising review program that includes both automated and manual review of ads," she said.

For years now, fraudulent Web links have been a battleground for luxury companies. Last September, Paris-based LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton ended a longstanding dispute with Google, agreeing to work with the search giant to help prevent vendors from advertising counterfeit goods online. LVMH, the world's largest luxury-goods company, had accused Google of violating its trademark rights by selling protected words as keywords that then link users, who search under the French company's brands, to websites selling fake items.

How Facebook and other Web giants police their ad networks can play an important role in hampering the sale of fakes online, says Guido Scorza, a lawyer specializing in intellectual property. He said that one of the best ways to fight e-commerce sites that break copyright is "not shutting them down but isolating them from the largest advertising chains.”

Websites that sell counterfeit goods often look very similar to the real thing. For example, a rather convincing knockoff Ray-Ban storefront includes the brand name in the Web address, designs and logos resembling Ray-Ban.com, and information about nonexistent warranties, according to the researchers.

Milan-based Luxottica Group, the world’s largest eyewear maker and owner of Ray-Ban, says it’s working with Facebook and urges the company to do more. "The fight against counterfeiting is a priority for Luxottica,” a company spokeswoman said.

For Stroppa, one of the researchers, this isn't the first time he's scrutinized social media. Last year, he and Carlo De Micheli examined the underground market for Twitter followers. Based on their findings, they told the New York Times that they estimated there were as many as 20 million fake follower accounts.

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