Source: Library of U.S. Congress
When you buy something online, it is essential to ensure that you get what you paid for. This can be hard to do since you don't yet have the product in your hands and only have the listing to determine if you are buying a legitimate product, which may show you fake photos. Many online shoppers have paid for counterfeit items because they don't know how to tell the difference between genuine items and fake products, but there are ways you can protect yourself.
By definition, counterfeiting is "the process of making an imitation of something with the intent to deceive." This definition can cover a lot of things, from currency to art. Consumer products are one of the most significant categories of counterfeits because scammers can easily set up a fake online store or list their fake products in one of the online marketplaces (e.g., Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace). This allows them to sell to thousands of customers all over the world.
Scammers will set up a complete supply chain for their fake goods, including:
They manufacture products that look similar to popular consumer products and attach a logo to make them look real. Often, fakes are manufactured with lower quality or even toxic materials, and some, like electronic devices, can be dangerous to use.
According to data collected in 2021, 1 in 4 brand name products could be counterfeit, and 9 out of every 10 fake products are sold online. Authorities also intercepted 8% more fake products in 2021 than the average confiscated in the three years before.
Even though you may think you're being careful to avoid buying counterfeit items, it's almost impossible to steer clear of them. Sergi Garcia, Chief Marketing Officer at Red Points, says that counterfeiters are present in thousands of e-commerce platforms because that's where consumers are.
"It's a common strategy for counterfeiters to be present in multiple channels such as digital marketplaces, social networks, and stand-alone websites, at the same time," Garcia says.
"An example of what they do is buy fake ads on popular social media platforms in order to promote their infringing listings that are buried in the marketplace."
With anyone able to buy ad space on social media platforms for a relatively low cost, it's no wonder that this has become a favorite method amongst scammers.
"It's a growing technique to trick users into buying from bad actors," Garcia says. "These fake ads can also redirect users to a standalone website impersonating the original brand."
Using this technique, scammers can make you believe you're buying the real deal from a legitimate site, when in fact, you're buying a fake. Garcia adds, "During the whole process, shoppers think they are dealing with a legit brand when in reality it is a scammer trying to either sell them counterfeits or steal their financial data."
Accidentally buying counterfeit products is pretty common. Scammers know what they're doing and how to trick you into believing you're purchasing the real deal. They use phrases like "genuine product," legitimate brand logos, and many other tactics to lure you in. But if you look a little harder, you can spot some red flags, like these:
The most common counterfeit goods include:
Common products that counterfeiters choose to fake include:
Scammers will create fakes for anything in demand to make a quick buck. They will also jump on new trends quickly. For example, when a new Spiderman movie comes out, there'll be plenty of Spiderman costumes for sale claiming to be licensed by Marvel, but in actual fact, they're fakes.
Scammers also have favorite brands to counterfeit, usually because of their popularity and markup on the price. Think about it, a counterfeiter could sell a belt for $15, but if they disguise it as a designer belt, they could sell it for upwards of $100.
Be careful when you're buying any products from the following brands from non-authorized retailers:
Sergi Garcia, Chief Marketing Officer (Red Points)
Counterfeiting is a threat to a brand's revenue, reputation, distribution network health, in-house team's time, and client trust. Building a brand is not an easy job—it takes time and effort.
When consumers unknowingly buy counterfeits online and realize it's not a genuine product, they blame it on brands.
Additionally, finding and taking down counterfeits manually is incredibly time-consuming.
Through technology, Red Points can detect and enforce counterfeits, fake websites, and unauthorized sellers automatically. Over 1,000 companies rely on Red Points to recover their legitimate revenue from counterfeiting, piracy, impersonations, credential reselling, and distribution abuse online.
Counterfeits can be hard to spot, but you can protect yourself from this scam by taking the following precautions.
A scammer will make it look like you are buying the product from an official reseller or directly from the official company. You should track down the company's name selling the product and check that they are licensed to sell the product. Better yet, buy only from nationally-known retailers or authorized vendors of the product.
Get familiar with the appearance of the product you are going to buy. Know what the logo should look like. Brands usually put their logos in a particular place on the product. Visit the brand's website and look at images of the product in detail. Counterfeiters usually will miss a detail or two. If the product doesn't look right, don't buy it.
You may not be able to spot a fake from the listing itself because scammers will use photos they find from the official retailers. Try doing a reverse image search to see if it's a photo of the actual product they're selling or if they just stole it from someone else.
Scammers want to make a quick buck and will cut corners when listing their fakes for sales. Go through the list of red flags above, and if you detect anything off, don't purchase the product.
While this won't prevent you from purchasing a counterfeit, it will give you the ability to get your money refunded if you buy one. If you do, contact the credit card company and dispute the charge.
If you have fallen for this scam and have accidentally purchased a counterfeit product, there are some things you can do to possibly get your money back and help authorities stop the scammer.
Most of the time, fakes and counterfeits are manufactured with inferior quality or toxic materials. Using a fake product can cause skin irritation, fire, and other consequences, depending on the product. So it is best not to use it at all. But don't throw it away. The authorities may need it for evidence.
Take a photo of the item you received, take a screenshot of the page you purchased the item from, save the URL of the page, and save all emails you have regarding the item. This type of information will help authorities catch the scammer.
This will not work with all fake product scams, but if they are selling somewhere like eBay, where buyers can give feedback on sellers, you could have some leverage to convince the seller to give your money back.
If the scammer built a fake website to sell counterfeits, contacting them to complain about the fake may not work. But if they are using an online marketplace like Amazon or eBay, the marketplace will usually have a policy set up for reporting fake products, and you could get a refund.
This is an effective way to prevent other buyers from falling for the same fake product scam. Brands are usually really concerned about fakes. So they will use the information you give them to educate buyers on detecting counterfeit products, track them down across the internet, and remove them from stores.
Call your credit card company if you used a credit card to purchase the fake item. You may get a full refund for your purchase by disputing the charge.
You should also report the scam to the authorities, including the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the FBI. This won't help you get your money back, but it will help stop others from falling victim to the same scam.
Don't believe everything you see. Online listings have become a playground for scammers using fake photos to win your business.
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