The problem is that most of the fakes come from ebay sellers, and some of the fakes come from Amazon third party sellers, some of which themselves fall victim to scammers who return a fake and keep the real thing.
Now a totally separate problem is that people get paranoid that they maybe bought a fake, obsess over it, and go to some of the online communities who tell them that if they got it from Amazon or ebay, then it's probably a fake. As I've said before, this isn't even in the same ballpark of sound advice. It isn't even the same sport.
For the most part, these enthusiast communities just add fuel to the fire of someone's unrealistic fear of getting a fake, or getting a fake and not being able to tell the difference. What I would like to do with this post is unravel this issue and take a factual based approach to navigating the world of buying expensive items online, specifically buying Spydercos online.
Fake vs. Knockoff
A fake is something passed off as the real thing, with a price to match. Many Chinese manufacturers make fakes and sell them as fakes with plenty of disclaimers, but scammers come along, snap up the fakes, and pass them off as the real thing with a steep discount.
A knockoff is a product with suspiciously similar design, but not branded or packaged as the real thing. A couple known makers of Spyderco knockoffs are Ganzo and Navy. These knockoffs are branded and packaged prominently with their respective brands. These don't bother me so much, because nobody is paying for a Ganzo thinking they are getting a Spyderco, and scammers aren't trying to pass them off as the real thing. Nobody is getting scammed with these knockoffs.
Let's start with some facts:I first wanted to start with some facts about Spyderco fakes and how they relate to sellers.
- The Paramilitary 2 is the model most popular with enthusiasts, and so it's the most duplicated model.
- If it ships from China, it's not the real thing, simply because a knife made in, say, Golden, CO will not find you by way of China.
- The Chinese aren't so good at faking the FRN models like the Native, Delica, etc.
- Lately I've seen more of their made in Taichung models being faked, which is funny because their Taichung models are known for having some of the best fit and finish available with a production knife. But there seems to be a flood of the Taichung fakes.
- Amazon is an authorized Spyderco dealer. Many of their third party sellers are and many are not, though they are all bound by Amazon's agreements.
- Same goes with ebay. There are lots of authorized dealers, but also a large mix of private parties.
- In China, it's not a crime to sell someone a product and pass it off as the real thing. Here in the USA it's considered fraud, and scammers here risk jail time. This is why it's so important to see where your knife is shipping from when you order it.
- It's been reported that some people try to game Amazon and large ebay sellers by buying knives and returning fakes for the full refund. I'm not sure Amazon is as dumb as some people think, but it's probably a safe guess that a smaller "mom and pop" dealer is going to have more expertise spotting fakes than whatever warehouse manager at Amazon.
The Real Risks
If you use PayPal, you are protected for several months. I think they just changed it to a big number like 6 months. If you don't get what you order, and the seller doesn't make it right, Paypal will step in and give you a refund. If you decide a month later you got a fake, or it stops working, or you decide it's not as blue as it was in the photos, PayPal will side with you the buyer almost 100% of the time.
Amazon has similar buyer-oriented policies, and so do many other big online retailers like Rakuten. If you don't get what you ordered, it's a similar process.
Most banks will protect you on top of everything else, but with a much smaller window of protection. Some banks do 30 days but my bank only allows 10 days to dispute a fraudulent charge.
So, to me there's really only two really tangible risks buying anything online, not just Spyderco:
1. You get a fake, think it's real, use it, and only realize it's a fake after it's too late to file a dispute with whoever you bought it from.
2. The seller runs out the clock on any dispute by stringing you along, apologizing and telling you they will take care of it. They will continually ask for new info or tell you that it will be shipped out next week, or some such ploy to make you think that they're going to make it right if you just wait a little longer. Often the dispute window passes you by unnoticed, but they notice. Once the dispute window closes, oops, they just stop answering your emails. I know a few people this has happened to, though mostly for damaged and missing orders and not fakes. But it's the same ploy.
Risk vs. Reward
As someone raised by a single mother, we were taught the value of "waste not, want not." If we could get a loaf of bread for 10 cents cheaper, we saved that 10 cents. We didn't buy something for $2.00 that we could get for $1.90. It didn't happen.
So, taking that lifelong philosophy into knife collecting, I'm usually out for the best price, period, for what I'm looking for, and I buy it from whoever is selling it to me, making sure of course that I'm protected via PayPal or similar mechanism.
Financially your risks are low and your prospect of reward is high. There's a reason that sites like Amazon, eBay, Rakuten, etc. do so well. They offer good deals and good service, and they favor the buyer.
And following the laws of economics, normally the bigger the savings, the shadier the deal is. But if you're protected, we're just back to those two risks above. It's very hard to lose as the buyer, as long as you don't get tricked into accepting a fake past any dispute window.
How To Tell A Fake?
Ask this question to most of the communities and they will tell you "by not shopping on ebay or Amazon" which is not really an answer to the question so much as a bias, and the reason for this post.
The real answer is that the only way to know for 100% sure is to send it to Spyderco, because they are the only ones who can bless it and say it's real. But there are often red flags, like it ships from China, or that there's 100 in stock at 75% off with a "Buy it now" button. Or a low feedback count. Unrealistic looking discounts from a buyer with a low feedback count is a big red flag. I personally avoid overseas sellers.
Another thing I can say is that in general a $100 knife looks like a $100 knife when it's in your hand, and a $200 knife looks like a $200 knife, and so on. Rarely does a $10 knife look like a $200 knife.
There are a few more indicators:
- Poor fit and finish, especially for Golden, CO and Taichung, Taiwan models known for having excellent fit and finish.
- Poor performance, like rolling the edge or losing the edge easily.
- Chinese steel is usually heavier compared to more exotic steels, and I predict the fakes will weigh more, though I've never owned a fake in order to weigh it. I have owned a couple knockoffs in the past, and they were definitely heavier.
Who Should I Buy From?
Many enthusiasts choose to buy from smaller dealers, usually also owned by enthusiasts. It's not a bad way to go. You will pay more, but you will get a little piece of mind. If you're the type to lose sleep wondering if your product is a fake, then you'll have a slightly better chance of getting something legit from a well known and well regarded seller.
As I've said, being frugal has served me well as an adult. I believe it's a very small chance of getting a fake somewhere like Amazon and a very big chance I will get a legit product for a sizable discount. Also, there's almost no chance that I will be stuck with a fake, and a very good chance I will be able to determine one. So, for me, every penny counts.
There are also lots of brick and mortar stores that are authorized retailers for brands like Spyderco, where you can go hold one in your hand. It might be a good way to know what some of the models look and feel like in person. Of course, there's a slim chance that a scammer or rogue employee could switch one and a clueless store manager misses it, which puts it right back on you, caveat emptor style.
...and that gets me to the central point of this article. Knowing what you are buying is on you, the buyer. Do your homework and pay attention. Lots of blogs like mine have lots and lots of photos of the real thing, making it easier to spot fakes. You can even look on sites like Ali Express and see what the fakers are selling wholesale. You can hedge your bets by purchasing the expensive high end models from a small shop and using a discount store to buy those 10 Dragonflies.
The truth is that there's a pretty low chance statistically that you'll get a fake from a well established seller with lots of buyer feedback. They didn't get 50,000 positive ratings with a 99,9% rating because they are ripping people off. If you get a fake from them, it's probably a fluke and they would immediately apologize and refund your money.
So, think about every purchase and pay attention to the details.
Shopping Online: Tips & Tricks
- I personally avoid anything but "new in box," "brand new in box" and only sometimes go with "like new in box" if the pictures look good and everything else checks out. Remember, It must be exactly like the seller advertised or PayPal will rule in your favor with any claims.
- Avoid anything without the original box, or with a damaged/marked/blemished box.
- Avoid anything that ships from China that's not supposed to be made there.
- If there are photos of the item, look at the photos for a "reality check" like making sure the box matches the knife. The seller can use any pictures they want, and many scammers use other sellers photos of the real thing, but some scammers are dumber than others, and there might be a red flag in the photos.
- Look for seconds, and avoid them unless you are happy with the discount and intend to carry it forever, because they have a much lower resale value. For Spyderco, seconds will usually be marked with a little chunk out of the spine of the blade. Again, it must be claimed by the seller or they have to refund you if you ask for one.
- Always check where your item is shipping from and do a "reality check."
- Avoid low feedback sellers. I went a while without being on ebay so my new account is only like a year old and I haven't used it much. My sister is the big ebay fanatic so most of my dealings are through her. So, by my own rules, I would not buy a Spyderco from me.
- Be mindful of someone trying to run out the clock on your dispute window(s). If you are not satisfied with your purchase, don't screw around: they fix it now or you file the dispute now.
- Always check something out before you put it away in a safe, on your shelf, etc. I usually open things like pocket knives if they are gifts, just to make sure that it looks like something I would want to carry.
- Manage your expectations. I am a stickler for good service. At restaurants I will withhold a tip for bad service, and will always tip well for good service. But I've been to restaurants where the food is fantastic, and dirt cheap, but the service isn't that great. There's a reason it's cheap, because they cut corners on the service. So I always try to balance my expectations with other factors like amount of discount, rarity of the item, etc. Something rare and cheap? I'm all over that. It's almost like gambling to me, except that PayPal doesn't step in and pay you back when you lose a hand of Blackjack. So, it's very low risk gambling.
It's no secret I like Amazon and Spyderco both. But I also like a good deal wherever a good deal is to be found, and I'm not married to either of those companies. I like lots of smaller sellers, and there's a few sellers on ebay I like. There's other brands of knives and outdoor gear I like. And always chasing the best deal has given me some experience that I've tried to share. A lot of people are spreading a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt, and there are a lot more fears of fakes than there are fakes.
And just like most other FUD, this FUD has a kernel of truth. There are fakes out there and there are people buying them. The victims are usually less numerous and far more vocal than the people who get what they ordered and are happy, and it's important to factor that in when you wonder if something is legit or not. The difference between getting a fake is the difference between being struck by lightning or run over by a bus: one is more likely but probably neither will happen.
To me it's a really great time to shop on the Internet. I like more choices not less choices. There's a new Amazon competitor called jet.com which has huge investment backing and might give them a run for their money. They even have groceries and pet supplies.
And that hits on one of the reasons I'm not fond of Amazon: big corporations usually only get bigger. But people used to tell me not to shop and Walmart, and I say the same thing about Walmart as I say for Amazon: I've raised kids, and when you feed your family on a budget, every single penny counts. I'm just a regular guy trying to save a few cents on milk and fund my outdoor gear hobby. I'm not going to carry the guilt of the world on my shoulders for trying to be frugal. Politics isn't my thing.
Another reason I don't like Amazon is that they play games with the Prime shipping. Suddenly two days has become possibly two days if it doesn't require additional time to process. They also guarantee shipping dates that they routinely miss because of faults with the USPS and UPS. But they did guarantee the dates, and they leave you to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org and plead your case where all they can really do is extend your Prime for a month each time they miss a date and you complain.
But I'm happy to let the forces of capitalism play out while I look for great deals. When I order at Amazon, it's usually when I can't find a better price or it's something I really need in two days. If something better comes out, it's all the same to me. It's not a bad time now to be a smart shopper, but I wouldn't argue with having it better!