Fads: Crimes of Fashion
By Adrienne Carter Additional reporting by Makebra Anderson, Daniel Binder and Mattie Brickman

(MONEY Magazine) – Shoppers spend more than $5 billion a year on the hottest handbags from Louis Vuitton, Prada, Kate Spade and the like. Waitlists for the latest "it" bag can stretch for months. The obsession has fueled an equal fervor for fakes--now it seems that everyone's selling them, from Senegalese street vendors in Manhattan to moms hosting Tupperware-style purse parties in the 'burbs. "My friend saw my $40 bag and said, 'It looks like the one I paid $900 for!'" says Patricia Luchsinger, a New Yorker who regularly buys knockoffs. "I felt so proud." But the thrill of the deal means shoppers may overlook the issues--and there are issues.

--Is it illegal to buy? You're not doing anything illegal by buying knockoffs (though the fashion police may want to arrest you); it's the selling that can be a problem.

--What makes a bag illegal? A bag that loosely mimics, say, the Gucci logo is usually okay; it's when sellers offer a bag that is at first blush indistinguishable from the original that imitation stops being flattery and selling becomes illegal.

--How do illegal purses get here? Crooks are wily. To avoid customs seizures, they may import purses with fake covers or ship bags and handles separately. Companies pursue counterfeiting aggressively: Vuitton investigations led to more than 4,200 raids by law enforcement last year.

--What's the diff? For the extra grand, not much. Oh, yeah: Vuitton covers repairs for a year. --ADRIENNE CARTER