Financial Education


Don't Get Fooled into Buying Counterfeit Goods

Tracy Curtis / May 10th, 2018

Fingerlings, tiny toy creatures that respond to motion, touch, and speech, were one of the hardest items to get last holiday season. Their success made them a target for counterfeiters. A lot of unsuspecting buyers were taken in by the fakes, thinking that because they were buying through a site like Amazon, they were ordering authentic toys.

What those shoppers didn’t know is that although they made their purchases using a well-known site, they were ordering from third-party sellers. These sellers advertise and accept payments through major sites, but otherwise operate independently – and many sell counterfeit goods.

Counterfeit toys not only disappoint your kids when they find it doesn’t work, but its components and hazardous materials can prove to be dangerous.

Toys aren’t the only items being counterfeited. Jewelry, designer clothing, tickets, weapons, software, auto parts, drugs, makeup, or basically anything shelf-stable likely has a counterfeit version that you can buy online.

It happens because it’s profitable and because most of the transactions occur outside the reach of U.S. laws and regulations. Customs agents and law enforcement seize caches of counterfeit goods regularly; but they miss a lot. Third-party sellers on sites such as Amazon avoid the risk of having inventory seized by operating one transaction at a time. When a product is not as advertised, or does not arrive, the customer must lodge a complaint. Some customers don’t bother, or don’t succeed.

To avoid being fooled, here are a few suggestions:

  • Look at the “ships from” and “sold by” information on the product. Don’t buy items shipped from outside the U.S.
  • If a price seems too good to be true, the product is probably fake.
  • Never buy anything from a third-party seller that won’t promise delivery within two weeks.
  • Use a credit card or PayPal. Never transfer money directly or use a gift card.
  • If the product listing has misspellings or errors, the product is probably fake.
  • Check brand websites to make sure the product being offered exists. Some fakes come in colors or sizes that the originals don’t.
  • Learn how to detect fake customer reviews.
  • Buy directly from a manufacturer’s site.
  • Don’t buy from any site without a secure (https) connection.
  • Don’t buy from a seller who doesn’t respond to questions.
  • Items that ship without packing materials are likely fake.

Third-party sellers constitute a sizeable portion of Amazon’s business and other retailers allow them as well. Companies whose products are counterfeited, developers hoping to find a profitable niche, and believers in democratizing technology are working on ways to authenticate products and stamp out fraud. Until then, be cautious.

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