Organic fruit and veg hamper

The A-Z of fakes (J-Q)

From Jeans to Quids, E&T continues its rundown of counterfeit and fake technologies

J is for jeans

Authorities seize more counterfeit clothing than any other fake. In 2010, detectives in north London seized thousands of fake brands including Versace, Armani, Gucci and sporting brands Nike and Adidas, which were estimated to have a street value of £1m.

Jeans have been declared by online auction site eBay as one of the most commonly counterfeited items, and Levi's is a major victim of the trade. The Far East is the source of much of the fake material, especially Thailand where cheap labour and inexpensive materials are readily available.

Diesel Jeans has launched an awareness programme among its buyers, making public the different ways of distinguishing the real from the steal, by assessing the materials and cost.

Missing manufacturer tags, variable threading work, significantly reduced prices, or material that is not 100 per cent cotton – these are other signs of counterfeit jeans. Also, the country of origin is a vital clue, if the jeans are meant to be American, but the label says it is made in a developing country, the jeans are probably fake.

K is for knighthoods

...or indeed any dodgy ennoblement! Perhaps you have seen a clutch of titles advertised in the classifieds pages of a satirical magazine. Most of these titles are actually supported by an elaborate network of websites, organisations and even fake nations to add credence to the title.

For example, His Imperial and Royal Highness Prinz Karl Friedrich von Deutschland lives in the UK and claims to hold the title of Prince and heir to the imperial throne of the Holy Roman Empire. Indeed he has ennobled a Canadian citizen who received the title His Excellency Graf von Bretzenheim.

But the problem remains: how'can you tell if someone is a real nobleman or a fake one – since anyone can change their name under deed poll? The answer is to check their passport or driving licence – assuming that these haven't been faked as well. Under the DVLA's and Passport Agency's guidelines, everyone has to provide documentary proof of their ennoblement – whether it's by the robe or sword.

They can still use their self-styled title, but they would be compelled to be called, for example, 'Mr' Sir Beechtree Manningcroft rather than plain old Sir Beechtree Manningcroft.

L is for labels

According to the International Anti-counterfeiting Coalition (IACC) up to 7 per cent of annual world trade, some £400bn, is generated through counterfeiting or piracy. The cost to legitimate UK industry alone is estimated at '1.3bn a year. A large proportion of this is thought to be down to fake branded clothing, handbags and jewellery, and consumer electronics.

Manufacturers are going to extraordinary lengths to protect their labels. The weakest, but often cheapest, deterrents are overt solutions: serial numbers, holograms and optically variable inks which are often integrated into packaging.

Then there are the covert solutions: microtext, the printing of barcodes or text in ultraviolet or infrared inks or the embedding of RFID chips.

Topping the list in terms of expense and security are forensic solutions such as DNA tagging. Here, information is embedded into manipulated botanical DNA which can then be integrated into a range of products such as visible and invisible inks, varnishes, adhesives or textiles. The coding is incredibly difficult to decipher or reproduce due to its length and complexity.

Though still in its infancy, the technology has been successfully employed by several manufacturers of high-end goods such as American luthiers Martin Guitars and Australian wine producers BRL Hardy.

M is for manuscripts

The problem with medieval handwritten manuscripts is in spotting modifications to genuine artefacts believed to have been carried out hundreds of years after they were created.

Traditional techniques for identifying the age and origin of a manuscript have relied largely on expert knowledge of the handwriting styles, dialects and other characteristics of the original scribes. Now however, researchers are exploiting the fact that many are written on parchment made from animal skins that still contain traces of DNA.

Timothy Stinson, assistant professor of English at North Carolina State University, is working on perfecting techniques for extracting and analysing DNA from parchments.

As a typical parchment book includes skins from up to 100 different animals, each one can provide a wealth of genetic data.

The aim is to create a genetic database to determine when and where a manuscript was written.

N is for numbers

Execute a keyword search for 'survey' in your inbox and you may well encounter several emails from companies wanting to sell you something with proof that if you buy their particular widget, it may improve performance by impressive percentage points.

Who conducted this research?'Was it the company in question? Did they employ a bona fide market research company? Can you see the raw data?

Politicians, journalists, salespeople and others often make the numbers work for themselves in such a fashion to promote their particular argument. This is bad science or, for our purposes, bad engineering.

Number-wrangling has been around as long as fibbing politicians. In 1954, Darrell Huff, a freelance journalist wrote a book called 'How To Lie With Statistics' – which outlined deliberate and unintentional errors.

Although Huff was not a statistician by training, it became a standard introductory textbook for university students in the US and journalists worldwide. It remains one of the best-selling statistics books in history – with over one and a half million copies sold in the English-language edition alone.

The last print run was in the early 1990s, but Kindle users should be able to pick it up easily.

O is for organic foods

The number of consumers happy to pay a premium for organic makes it an attractive market for unscrupulous suppliers. In Italy, which has the largest number of organic farms in the EU, the sector has an annual turnover of around £3bn. An operation by police in 2011 code named 'Puss in Boots' led to several arrests and the seizure of 2,500 tonnes of fake organic food.

The heavily regulated organic food industry has a myriad of national standards relating to how food can be grown and processed. Often, the only evidence of compliance the shopper has is a label backed up by the associated enforcement regime. So how can technology help differentiate organic from non-organic products other than by providing a rigid infrastructure for labelling and tracking?

In Germany, scientists at food research centre the Max Rubner Institute have developed a test based on analysing the ratio of stable isotopes of carbon in milk fat. This reveals milk from cows raised on feed containing a higher ration of maize which is typical of conventional dairy farming production.

Dutch researchers at the RIKILT food safety institute in Wageningen University have come up with a method for verifying whether an egg is organic by comparing it with a 'fingerprint' of characteristics from genuine products. The profile is based on yellow carotenoid pigments, identified by high-pressure liquid chromatography, which vary widely enough to distinguish between organic and regular eggs. The team believes the technique could be applied to other products and have tested it on milk, ham, cheeses, butter and olive oil.

P is for painting

Fake paintings are old as human creativity, and the best bogus brush-wielders have fooled the most knowledgeable art experts. Motivations are manifold, but the potential to pass off the fakes as genuine artworks to dealers and auctioneers is a primary incentive. Prices have risen over the last decade as fine art is increasingly seen as a secure investment in economically unsure times.

In recent years computer power has been enlisted to help detect fakes. Researchers from the departments of Computer Science and Mathematics at the Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, for example, have combined computer science and mathematics to develop a method of analysing art to quantify its signature artistic attributes that prove authenticity. Using a method focused on modelling the way images interact with the first stages of visual processing, the Dartmouth team has built its solution around the Sparse Coding model of vision coding.

The Sparse Coding method can be likened to finding the individual sounds in musical chords, and the software can be trained to represent any image space by maximising the kurtosis of a representation of an arbitrarily selected image from that space. The Dartmouth team based its initial researches around authentic and imitation drawings by 16th century Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Although not intended to replace traditional art historical analysis, the method could provide additional evidence in cases where full attribution remains in doubt.

Q is for quids

For the past ten years, Britain's Royal Mint has been tracking how many counterfeit £1 coins are in circulation. Its latest estimate is that just under 3 per cent are fakes, but what are the signs that show whether or not the pound in your pocket is real?

The design on the reverse of the coin representing represent the United Kingdom and its four constituent parts changes every year. Check whether design and date match correctly at www.royalmint.com/Corporate/facts/coins/

Lettering or inscription on the edge also varies from year to year. For example, the series of coins produced between 1994 and 1999 depicting Scotland's lion rampant on the reverse side carry the motto of the Order of the Thistle 'Nemo me impune lacessit' ('No one provokes me with impunity').

On a fake, the milled edge is likely to be poorly defined and the lettering uneven in depth, spacing poorly formed. Designs on both signs will be less sharp and well defined than on the real thing.

Is the appearance of the coin consistent with the length of time it's been in circulation? A fake will be more shiny and golden than its age would suggest.

Compare the colour of several coins. A counterfeit won't match the real thing and is likely to stand out.

Orientation of the portrait of Her Majesty the Queen on the obverse side should match that of the picture on the reverse. On a fake, the two aren't always aligned correctly.

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