Paul Hobley had carried his trusty Buck Hartsook for years until, one day, it went missing. The knife had served him well, so he ordered a replacement. To his unpleasant surprise, however when the counterfeit knife arrived it was not the one he had come to know and love.
“It was much bigger, and not even close to the quality of the original one” he says. Hobley’s story is not unique; counterfeit versions of popular knife models from well-known companies have pervaded the market, particularly online through sites such as eBay.
Often listed at tempting price points, these knives have enticed many a bargain hunter into a transaction that later proved too good to be true. What can you do to ensure that you, too, do not fall prey to a counterfeiter? Four things in particular are easy clues to look for.
1. KNIFE ORIGIN
“If a knife is bought online and shipped from China, it’s probably a counterfeit,” says Chelsea Weiler of Buck Knives.
It’s no secret that China is rife with lookalike products, from handbags to electronics, and knives are hardly exempt. Search any major knife company on eBay, and dozens of results immediately show up listed as shipping from China. These same results also tend to be the cheapest-priced, but more on that later.
For the savvy customer, “ships from China” should raise immediate red flags, but counterfeits can turn up elsewhere, too. According to Derrick Lau of Benchmade, many knock-off knives are sold at gun shows.
For these reasons, it’s crucial to be sure that the seller you’re purchasing a knife from is a verified dealer. And of course, you can’t play it more safely than purchasing directly from the manufacturer.
2. KNIFE MODEL
While a knife may be listed under the name of a prominent company, it may be labeled as a model that does not, in fact, exist. “If a knife is listed as a Saber Buck, it is a counterfeit,” says Weiler.
“There’s no such thing as a Saber Buck.” (We searched “Saber Buck” on eBay, and the results were immediately prolific.) Be aware, too, of the way a counterfeit knife is described. If the description is not consistent with a company’s usual product details, this should be a strong warning sign.
“A lot can be lost in translation from English to whatever the country of origin the site is setup through,” says Lau. “For instance, the 3300 Infidel might be described as ‘3388 INFIDEL tactical knife’ or something to that effect.”
“Sometimes, by using a random model number (especially ones that don’t exist), counterfeiters try to pass off the knife as a variant of the original. In addition, [Benchmade] would never refer to an out-the-front knife as a ‘tactical survival knife.'”
If you’re on the hunt for a good price, it’s best to keep a specific model in mind that you have seen in person at an authorized dealer or on the maker’s website, rather than simply browsing by company name.
3. KNIFE QUALITY
Quality is one of the surest ways to determine whether a knife is a genuine product, but it’s also one of the hardest without seeing the knife in person.
By purchasing a knife sight unseen from an unverified seller, you risk not finding out until it’s too late that your purchase has manufacturing flaws. “Quality of manufacturing and materials is a serious ‘tell,'” says Joyce Laituri of Spyderco.
“Many of the fakes are marked with the correct blade steel the originals have, making it difficult to distinguish the difference at first glance or if you are looking at images on a website.” Of course, not all originals are created equal; this is where visiting dealers and attending shows comes in handy.
If you know what a real KA-BAR or Kershaw or Spyderco or Emerson feels like, you’ll know when something is off. If you have doubts about a knife you’ve purchased, carefully examine the fit and finish. Are any pieces nicked, scratched, ill-fitting or misaligned?
If it’s a flipper, does it open as smoothly or lock as securely as you know it should? Is the blade as sharp out of the box as other knives you’ve seen or purchased from the same company? Does the logo etching look clean and consistent?
CUSTOMERS: NOT THE ONLY VICTIMS
When knife users purchase counterfeit knives, they’re not the only ones who end up paying the cost: a poorly made counterfeit knife under a falsely assumed name can do damage the real company’s reputation.
“Counterfeits matter tremendously to the manufacturer,” says Anne Reeve, wife of knifemaker Chris Reeve. “It is absolutely not any kind of ‘immitation is flattery’: it is theft of intellectual property, others making money off our creativity, research and development and manufacturing knowledge.”
“Counterfeits are harmful to a reputation,” says Joyce Laituri of Spyderco. “People who know Spyderco’s quality, and rely on it, do not purchase counterfeit knife knock-offs.”
“Unsuspecting first-time buyers may purchase a counterfeit product and end with an unwarranted negative image and feelings toward a brand. This can be harmful to any company doing the right thing…. If the problem persists, it can drive companies out of business.”
In an online, social-networked age, negative word-of-mouth can travel faster than ever before, and the dissatisfied are often the most vocal. This makes it all the more important for knife users to make themselves educated customers, and to help those around them do the same.
Hesitate before buying a knife at a marked-down price that claims to be discounted due to some flaw. This may seem fair at first glance, but is likely yet another ploy. “As a company, we don’t release products that would be considered ‘irregular’ or ‘blemished from the factory,'” says Benchmade’s Lau.
Some counterfeits are convincing to all but the most experienced eyes and hands, even down to the logo and packaging. This is why it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the company whose products you’d like to own and to be aware of their usual standards.
4 . KNIFE PRICE
A good rule of thumb: If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Street prices for knives are often less than the MSRP, and discounts exist, of course — within reason.
If you find a Zero Tolerance knife selling online for $50, when the MSRP is normally well over $100, it’s a reasonably safe bet you’re looking at a fake. “For instance,” says Lau, “if you see a Benchmade 3300 Infidel for $200, it’s most likely a counterfeit, as that knife typically retails for around $470 to $485.”
Remember – with a counterfeit knife – that you’ll get what you pay for. You might feel that you’re saving money by purchasing a knife at an unbelievable “discount,” but your supposed savings won’t feel so significant when the knife falls apart during its first outing.
If you want to be confident in your purchase, do your research, make your purchase from an authorized dealer, and save up. A good, trustworthy blade is well worth the investment.