DUBAI // People buy counterfeit goods not only because they are cheaper but because they are not aware it is robbery, experts say.
Companies lose money because of illegal fakes, which often support organised crime and can be made from toxic or shoddy materials.
But shoppers continue to purchase fake bags, watches and clothing, prompting researchers to look into the reasons why.
More than a quarter of students at a university said they were more likely to buy copies instead of genuine brands, a study revealed.
"There's a lot of information about the supply side but we wanted to ask why are people buying things they know are fake," said Cedwyn Fernandes, associate professor of economics at the university.
The survey asked 172 students questions about their attitudes toward brands and their purchasing habits. Mr Fernandes said the study highlighted two main reasons why people bought fakes - money and a lack of moral awareness.
"They want to be associated with the brand but the fakes - the quality of which are improving - offer a better value option," he said. "Also there is the ethical issue, which cuts across different earning groups.
"Even though most people are religious in this part of the world, somehow buying a fake is not considered to be ethically wrong."
Mr Fernandes said buying counterfeit goods was not linked solely to any particular income group, age or gender.
The research, published in the Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management last month, concluded that brands needed to launch awareness campaigns emphasising that buying fake items was essentially robbery.
Imad el Badawi, director of United Trademarks, carries out investigations in souqs on behalf of luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Montblanc.
The company employs mystery shoppers, who seek out fake goods and report their findings to the Department of Economic Development, who carry out raids on apartments and storerooms housing the counterfeit products.
At least one major raid a week has been carried out for the past several years.
Mr el Badawi said the counterfeit trade was seriously damaging companies.
"My wife stopped buying original bags because everyone in Dubai is carrying fakes," he said. "Whenever I see a woman wearing a designer brand, I always have a thought in my mind whether it is fake.
"A lot of companies are losing money because of that."
Mr el Badawi said the majority of people who bought fakes in Dubai were well-educated westerners, mostly tourists.
"I don't know what is wrong with people," he added. "A lot of the people who are buying it are educated people.
"They're supporting an illegal trade and organised crime. What they buy might not last, or could be a hazard to their health, especially when it comes to pharmaceuticals or make-up. It's a risk.
"I'm totally against it. If I can't afford it, I don't buy it."