Amazon addicts and eBay enthusiasts beware – you may not be getting as good a deal as you think.
A new report has revealed that some of the biggest online retailers could be home to a prolific volume of fake goods that put the health, safety and finances of buyers at risk. The research, carried out by the US Government Accountability Office, showed that of 47 designed goods that were purchased – including “certified” electrical goods, Nike trainers and Urban Decay cosmetics – 20 were not the real deal (read more here).
What’s the problem with buying counterfeit goods?
Firstly, there’s the issue of customers paying for quality goods and receiving something that does not match up. If you’re forking out for premium materials, ingredients or craftsmanship, that’s what you should be getting, clearly.
Even if buyers aren’t worried about the price because they feel that they’ve got a “good deal” from an online marketplace, there’s the issue of safety to consider. Counterfeit goods simply aren’t subjected to the same rigorous testing as authentic products. Those imitation electricals could very easily start a fire, or cause an electric shock. Knock-off sunglasses are unlikely to offer UV protection, leading to eye damage. Even unassuming products aren’t safe, with unregulated makeup products being known to contain mercury, cyanide and urine – not what you want to be putting near your face.
How prolific is counterfeiting?
The World Customs Organisation estimates that almost 10% of the world’s trade is of various counterfeit products. This includes the handbags, trainers and accessories that are designed to look like high-end fashion brands, the trade of pirated CDs and DVDs, and electrical items that attempt to imitate cutting edge technology for a fraction of the price.
The internet isn’t the only place where these trades happen of course, as street vendors, market stalls and pub deals are still common all over the world. It’s just that online transactions offer no way to inspect what you’re buying until you’ve ordered, paid and had it delivered. Where you could once have used customer reviews, transaction ratings or a website’s “verification” system to reassure you that a vendor was legitimate, this is no longer the case. In the report mentioned above, all items were convincingly advertised as the proper brand by sellers with an average customer rating of 90%.
How can you avoid buying a fake product?
There will always be a portion of consumers who are willing to risk their safety in order to get a deal. If they encounter a problem, well, they didn’t pay much in the first place.
For the rest of us, avoiding counterfeit goods is important – not only so we don’t get scammed out of money, but so we can be certain that we’re not exposing ourselves or our families to harmful goods. How can we achieve this?
- Firstly, be aware of the different types of seller each marketplace offers. For example, if you’re buying from Amazon, they advertise goods as “ships from and sold by [third party]”, “sold by [third party] and fulfilled by Amazon” and “ships from and sold by Amazon.com”. The last one offers you the best chance of buying a legitimate item (see more info here).
- If you’re not buying directly from the source, always research the vendor. They’re likely to have their own website, or at least a credible profile. Be wary of new sellers and strange looking names, as sellers often concentrate on short-term wins from multiple random accounts.
- Be critical of reviews. If a product has a suspiciously high number of good reviews, or a lot of good reviews in a short space of time, the reviews might not even be real. Use a tool like Fakespot that goes through reviews (not products) and assesses their legitimacy.
- If you decide to order the product, pay attention to the packaging when it arrives. Do the various layers match the level of quality you expect from the brand or retailer? Blurry text, spelling mistakes on labels and off-looking typefaces for brand names are common red flags for counterfeits.
- Look for authenticity markings like holograms, CE marks, hallmarks and other identifiers. If you are buying an item from a high-end brand, you should be able to contact the company and they will be happy to help you check for authenticity.
- Ultimately, if something seems too good to be true, it’s probably a fake.
If you are particularly worried about being duped, it’s absolutely recommended that you use a credit or debit card for extra protection. If your goods arrive and they’re not what you’re expecting, you can ask your card provider to reverse the charges if they are less than £100 or make a claim under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act if the item was between £100 and £30,000. Should this happen, make sure you also report the transaction.
It can be disheartening to find that you’ve unintentionally bought a counterfeit product, but don’t forget that it your goods aren’t as described or do not meet your quality expectations, you have statutory right to a refund or an exchange of goods.