Dubai: Ever wondered why the same brand of perfume which costs Dh500 in a departmental store can be bought for two-thirds of its price online or even less in a shop down the road?
Like many you’d assume street vendors and e-commerce platforms offer better deals because they have fewer overheads than big retailers.
Sadly, that’s not true. A Gulf News investigation shows most fragrance brands sold online, or at small stores in the UAE, are cheap simply because they are counterfeits.
Unknown to customers, they are offered as authentic using classic ruses. The favourite one is: “We sell cheaper than malls because we don’t have additional costs such as high rents, insurance and salaries.” Then there are sellers who claim to have imported their stock from countries where the perfume is being sold for less.
Yes, some businesses do that. But you can never be sure if the store you bought the latest edition of Gucci is from one those places or if it was manufactured in a bathtub in Sharjah Industrial Area.
Perfume is third on the list of confiscated goods in the UAE after cosmetics and auto spare parts
Fake perfumes contain methanol, bacteria and antifreeze substances which can cause dermatitis and inflammation. Methanol can be harmful to the eyes and the nervous system. There have been reports of some fake perfume products containing urine.
Word of caution
Qais Sabri, who works for a major retailer in the UAE said people should be wary of buying from such stores.
“Everyone loves a bargain but when you see a high-end fragrance being sold at an incredibly low price in a discount store, then your antennae should go up,” he said.
“I have seen stands selling counterfeit Carolina Herrera Good Girl for Dh75 against their original price of Dh520. You’d be stupid to believe they are genuine,” said Sabri, formerly an area manager for French multinational luxury goods conglomerate LVMH group which owns brands like Christian Dior, Givenchy, Fendi and Guerlain.
“A lot of people mistakenly believe that if a perfume has a barcode, then it’s original. The fact is that replicating a barcode is easier than replicating the fragrance or the bottle and its packaging,” he explained.
Kashif Shehzaad, general manager, Alpha Italia FZCO, which sells perfume brands like Versace said counterfeits are spreading like cancer in the UAE.
“Today, many customers want to buy high-end goods through online platforms at cheaper prices without bothering to find out if the products are authentic or not. There is also lack of vigilance on the part of e-commerce partners as they allow unknown sellers to trade at their market place, thus, not taking responsibility to provide genuine goods for end users. I have personally come across fake Versace perfumes being sold on a website,” he said adding that he hoped UAE authorities would implement stricter laws and policies against counterfeiters.
There is also lack of vigilance on the part of e-commerce partners as they allow unknown sellers to trade at their market place, thus, not taking responsibility to provide genuine goods for end users. I have personally come across fake Versace perfumes being sold on a website.
Raising a stink
According to the Commercial Compliance and Consumer Protection, CCCP, sector in Dubai Economic Department, staggering 19.9 million fake products worth Dh332 million were seized in Dubai by authorities in 2018. Cosmetics topped with nearly 500,000 items worth Dh88.3 million.
Figures for perfumes are not readily available, but experts reckon it ranks high on the list.
In November 2019, as many as 119,960 counterfeit perfume bottles worth Dh33 million were confiscated by the Department of Economic Development (DED) from a farm in Ras Al Khaimah. It was the biggest haul of fake perfumes in the Emirate.
The same year over 20,000 bottles of counterfeit perfumes were seized from a warehouse in Al Qusais, Dubai.
Hatem Abdel Ghani director at The Legal Group (TLG), a Dubai-based law firm hired by luxury brands said perfume is third on the list of confiscated goods after cosmetics and auto spare parts.
“Every year we carry out anywhere between 15 and 20 raids on counterfeiters with the help of authorities. Sometime back, we seized around 400,000 fake perfume bottles of an American brand,” recalled Ghani.
“Counterfeiters are becoming increasingly sophisticated,” he said, holding up two identical Roberto Cavalli perfume boxes. As it turns out, the fake one had a fancy outer sleeve featuring a woman. “If the average customer is asked to choose from the two boxes, he’s likely to pick the one with the extra casing thinking it’s the real thing,” said Ghani.
TLG was also part of the November 2019 crackdown in Ras Al Khaimah during which authorities intercepted 15 vehicles loaded with fake versions of brands like Chanel, Gucci and Estee Lauder. Ghani said they were meant for sale in the MENA region.
In busts like this, the merchandise is either destroyed or its samples are sent to a criminal lab for investigation.
Fake perfume can make you sick
Besides hurting the profit margins of corporations, counterfeit perfumes also pose serious health hazards to users.
Industry experts say 10 per cent of all perfumes on the market are fake – and they often include toxic chemicals, in some cases even urine.
Some also contain a chemical called DEHP, classified as a probable carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“Being found out with a fake designer bag may damage your reputation but it’s unlikely to cause you physical harm, but using fake fragrances could expose you to a host of problems such as asthma and skin rashes,” cautioned a dermatologist.
Dr Ramachandran Rajagopal , specialist – (dermatology & venereology) Aster Hospital, Qusais said fake perfumes contain toxic chemicals which can cause dermatitis and inflammation. “They have been found to contain methanol, bacteria and antifreeze substances. Methanol can be harmful to the eyes and nervous system. There have been reports of some fake perfume products containing urine. Some contain high levels of carcinogenic chemicals like arsenic, beryllium and cadmium. Counterfeit perfumes have been found to have another carcinogen Di-ethyl phthalate,” said Dr Rajagopal.
Gifting that special someone a bottle of urine and carcinogens is not exactly the best way to you love them..
Everyone loves a bargain but when you see a high-end fragrance being sold at an incredibly low price in a discount store, then your antennae should go up.
Buy from trusted stores
Ghani said people should look beyond price considerations while shopping for perfumes, cosmetics and body care products, and always buy from trusted places as a rule. “Always ask for invoices and warranty. So if a product doesn’t turn out to be genuine you can always ask for refunds,” he advised.
A retailer said fragrances bought from the grey market are largely genuine but carry the risk of the inevitable counterfeit that a shopper may end up buying.
Trademark infringement is another major headache.
We found a shop selling fragrances with logo marks deceptively similar to popular trademarks such as Bvlgari and Calvin Klein. It’s just that they were called Bulgari and Calvin Klien. Similarly La’ Panthere became Da’ Panthere and 24 The Fragrance became 42 The Fragrance.
“The difference is subtle. The main difference is noticeable through time as fake scents weaken or even change their smell,” said an industry insider.
The law applies to anyone who falsifies a trademark registered in accordance with the law or imitates it in a manner is misleading to the public
What we found?
In Souq Murshid, Deira, Gulf News found replicas of Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Dolce & Gabbana. In Karama, we came across knock offs of Hugo Boss and Prada. Along Al Wahda street in neighbouring Sharjah, we saw vendors selling fake Versace, Prada and Hermès scents as originals. We also came across a shop selling fragrances with logo marks deceptively similar to popular trademarks such as Bvlgari and Calvin Klein. It’s just that they were called Bulgari and Calvin Klien. Similarly La’ Panthere became Da’ Panthere and 24 The Fragrance became 42 The Fragrance
How to spot a fake scent
- COLOUR. If the liquid appears too pale, it could be an alcohol-heavy phony. If it’s too dark, it could consist of impure or faux ingredients.
- LABEL. If its poorly printed, or misspelled, it’s not legit. If the bar code or an identifying mark looks sketchy, it could be fake.
- BUY RIGHT. Top-quality fragrances are sold at departmental stores, beauty speciality stores and apothecaries and trusted online platforms. You are unlikely to find them being sold at flea markets, supermarkets, discount stores, or out of the back of a truck.
- BEWARE. Some vendors display the genuine fragrance up front when you’re shopping but substitute a fake when handing over your purchase. So be careful
- BOTTLE AND CAP: An authentic perfume will have a high-quality bottle with a smooth and fine surface The cap of an original perfume should be perfectly symmetrical
- SERIAL NUMBER: It should be indicated on the bottom of the bottle and should match the number of the bottom of the box
Fake perfumes: What’s really in them
Active ingredients found in counterfeit fragrance include things like urine, bacteria, antifreeze. Experts reckon urine is used as a ph balance stabiliser and for its colour.
History of perfumes in the Middle East
The tradition of using perfumes in the Arabian peninsula dates back thousands of years. It is believed perfumes came to the region from the Indus Valley civilisation in the late 1st millennium BCE. Mesopotamia and Egypt were the hub of perfume in ancient times. Egyptian priests were the among the first perfumers and used aromatic resins during sacred rituals. Oud or agarwood is one of the most popular scents in the Middle East. Also known as black gold, it possesses a cultural value for Arabs. If you want to learn more about the UAE’s fondness for fragrance, you may want to visit Perfume House at Shindagha Museum.
Housed in the former residence of Shaikha Shaikha Bint Saeed Al Maktoum – a perfume connoisseur and an avid collector of traditional perfumes – the museum features more than 60 archaeological and historical artefacts, including fragrances from her personal collection.