7 signs that your cosmetics might be counterfeit: Internet Scambusters #606
Fake cosmetics sold online and at flea markets could be dangerous. Some contain urine or cancer-causing chemicals.
But there are a number of ways of identifying these phony products as we report in this week's issue.
We also have a warning about how crooks are using an Internet security alert to trick people into downloading a virus.
Let's get started...
Fake Cosmetics Could Pose Risks to Your Health
Counterfeit cosmetics, designed to look like top-name brands, trick thousands of shoppers into buying what seems like a great bargain.
But as well as being fooled into paying money for rubbish, buyers could also be placing themselves at risk. It turns out that some of these fakes are downright dangerous.
Just to make things worse, some of these bogus products that are sold online, at flea markets and even mall kiosks, are actually priced near the level of the genuine item, making it less likely that buyers will get suspicious.
The fakes include not only makeup but also hair-styling products and accessories like makeup brushes.
According to the FBI, counterfeit products have been found to contain known cancer-causing chemicals such as arsenic, beryllium and cadmium.
They may also be infected with bacteria and contain unacceptably high levels of normally non-dangerous metals like aluminum.
"Counterfeit fragrances have been found to contain something called DEHP, classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a probable human carcinogen," the FBI said in a statement.
"These phony perfumes and colognes, which sometimes contain urine as well, have been known to cause serious skin rashes."
A dermatologist recently told the Fox broadcasting network: "The skin on your face absorbs things differently than anywhere else on your body. Especially the skin around your eyes, it's the thinnest skin on our body.
"(Fakes) could cause acne on your face, dermatitis or eczema or scaling. Theoretically, you can absorb (them) through your skin too. There could be bacteria because there is no quality control. Anything could be in there."
An anti-fraud group, the National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Center, says the volume of counterfeit cosmetics flooding into the US, mainly from China, is rising at an alarming rate.
The products are sometimes part of larger-scale organized crime and can sometimes find their way into the hands of traders and entrepreneurs who may not even know they're phony, selling them in good faith.
How to Spot Fakes
So, what can you do to avoid these potentially dangerous, or even lethal, fakes?
Here are 7 warning signs to look out for:
- Bargain prices are by far the most important red flag. Products discounted by a quarter or third -- or even more -- of their regular price are highly suspect.
- You should also be dubious about expensive, top-name products that appear to come from China.
- The product packaging is not an exact match for what you're used to seeing. Maybe the color is slightly different, the wrapping is scrappy or the lettering is different.
- The packaging suggests that it's a new variation or "limited edition" of an existing product. Check the authenticity of this on the manufacturer's website.
- The texture or consistency of the makeup seems wrong or different than usual. Just because you bought the item and are out of pocket, don't be tempted to use it. The product may not be safe.
- The same goes for fragrances -- does it smell slightly different than how it should? Genuine manufacturers control fragrance production so closely that it should always smell the same.
- The product is being sold at flea markets or other unauthorized retailers. Again, most genuine manufacturers carefully control who is allowed to sell their products.
For what it's worth, you can also ask sellers if they know for sure that the product is genuine and whether they're able to provide proof.
This approach has been known to prompt some sellers to admit they're selling "replicas."
The FBI and the IPR say they need the public's help in their efforts to stamp out this trade.
Educating yourself is an important first step. If you're not sure whether a product is genuine, don't buy it, they say.
And if you suspect someone of selling fakes, they urge you to submit a tip to the National IPR Center.
"The more information law enforcement has, the more effective we can be," they add.
"With the proliferation of counterfeit goods increasing at an alarming rate, the National IPR Center focuses on keeping these bogus and often unsafe products off US streets... while dismantling the criminal organizations behind this activity."
What's In Them?
By the way, it's not only the chemicals in counterfeit cosmetics that could pose a risk.
Sometimes, genuine products can also cause an adverse reaction in people whose skin is sensitive to certain chemicals.
A health research and advocacy organization known as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) says 168 different chemicals are used across the whole range of cosmetics -- and you can't always tell what's in them from the label.
If you use an Apple or Android mobile device, you can download SkinDeep, a free app from EWG that lets you scan the barcode on a product to learn about its contents.
And, of course, if you suffer a reaction after using cosmetics -- genuine or fake -- you should seek medical advice as quickly as possible.
Tip of the Week: We've reported previously on the security scare over a bug in the Internet structure nicknamed Heartbleed.
It can really only be fixed by companies using a particular part of the Internet, not by you, but that hasn't stopped crooks launching a "Heartbleed removal tool" for consumers to download.
What you'd really be downloading is a virus -- so don't be tempted.
It's much better to use Heartbleed as a nudge to change your passwords, which you should do periodically.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!