LOS ANGELES—When searching for a specific holiday gift, it’s tempting to jump at the best offer you find. But be careful. The great deal you’re about to get might be a counterfeit item.
“Every product is vulnerable to counterfeiting, especially brand-named clothing items and accessories, sports apparel and concert/event tickets,” says Steve McFarland, President & CEO of Better Business Bureau of Los Angeles & Silicon Valley.
Globally, imports of counterfeit and pirated goods are worth nearly $500 billion a year, with many of the proceeds going to organized crime. Unfortunately the US is the biggest target. Counterfeit products are bad for the economy and can even endanger lives: toys that harm children, auto parts that fail, pharmaceuticals that sicken people and medical instruments that deliver incorrect readings.
Counterfeit goods also take a toll on consumers. So far in 2016, about 350 counterfeit product scams have been reported to Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker, with a median loss of $188.
To avoid accidentally purchasing a counterfeit product while holiday gift shopping, follow these six tips:
- Shop in established stores and on reputable websites. Try to shop at the brand’s own store or website or at an authorized retailer. If you’re not familiar with a website or business, make sure to look it up at bbb.org first to see its rating, complaint history, and reviews from past customers. Ensure that any website where you’re shopping is legitimate: hover over links, make sure the spelling and grammar is professional, and double check the URL and logo. It’s easy for scammers to create a fake website imitating a brand in an attempt to phish consumers.
- Beware of too-good-to-be-true deals. If you see an ad for an expensive accessory at an alarmingly low price, be careful. The steep discount may be because it’s counterfeit. Don’t click on ads you see online or follow links in unsolicited emails. Even if the email or ad is from a brand you’ve heard of, look up the URL independently because it may be phishing.
- Be careful buying from online marketplaces. When you make a purchase through an online marketplace like eBay or Craigslist, you can’t inspect the item before buying it. This increases the odds of buying a counterfeit. If possible, inspect the item in person, and take it to an expert if it’s a big-ticket item like jewelry or art.
- Buy sports merchandise that’s officially licensed. You can find authentic licensed merchandise and official retailers and resellers on the official website of your favorite team or league. Authentic apparel will always have the correct fonts, colors and spelling, attached tags will usually have hologram stickers, and there won’t be any loose threads or other signs of poor quality.
- What to do if you do buy a fake. Consumer Reports, a BBB Accredited Charity, advises that you not resell a counterfeit item as it could expose you to criminal prosecution. They also say that you’re legally entitled to a refund or legitimate version, no matter what the seller’s return policy is.
The bottom line: trust your instincts. If you’re uncomfortable with some aspect of your purchase or if something doesn’t feel right, it’s better to just walk away. If you stumble upon a counterfeit item, report it! Consumers play an important role in advancing marketplace trust. If you receive spam that directs you to a suspicious website or counterfeit product, report the info to the brand owner, the authorities and BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker/.