7 Online Shopping Tips for Avoiding Big Store Fake Products

Why online shopping at big name stores doesn’t guarantee honesty: Internet Scambusters #823

Online shopping is supposed to save you time and, hopefully, money.

But it could end up costing you a fortune – if you buy a fake branded product.

In this week’s issue, we explain how even big-name stores get caught out by the fraudsters, and what you can do to protect yourself.

Let’s check out today’s…

7 Online Shopping Tips for Avoiding Big Store Fake Products

Buying stuff on the Internet can be a huge time- and money-saver, and we all like to think that if we’re online shopping from a big store name like Amazon or Walmart, we won’t get ripped off.

But it turns out that’s not the case.

A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) says those big names, plus others like eBay and two other big retailers, were selling fake products, including some considered harmful to health.

Admittedly, it’s not the direct sales of the stores that are at fault. It’s third-party sellers — traders who use the retailers as a “shop front” — who are passing off knock-offs as the genuine item.

We’ve written about these tricksters in the past. For example, when you visit a product page on Amazon, you’ll often see a note on the page saying the same item is available from other sellers, with a link to these third-party listings where the crooks may be lurking.

Oftentimes, a scammer will offer electronic items in these listings for knock-down prices. They’ll claim they’re just starting up, which supposedly explains why they have no feedback scores.

Buyers lured into this trap part with their money but never receive their purchase — though Amazon is usually quite good at refunding the money to victims.

In other cases, fake products can actually turn up on both these listings or the main listing page when the items are being sold by a third party but “fulfilled” by the retailer.

“Fulfilled by” is the term used for products supplied by a third-party seller but stored in the big stores’ warehouses.

Furthermore, some organized crime gangs set up look-alike websites to match those of the big stores, from which they sell their knock-offs.

All of this is bad enough, but the GAO investigators found an even more worrying situation.

Of 47 product lines they checked — like cosmetics, iPhone adapters and travel mugs — on big store third-party sites, 20 were found to be counterfeit. Worse, some of them were potentially downright dangerous, containing hazardous materials or, in the case of phone adapters, posing a risk of electrocution.

The GAO investigators found that in some cases, it wasn’t always easy to spot the fakes — they looked so much like the genuine items.

7 Key Steps

The report lists seven steps online shoppers can take to cut the risk of being scammed when online shopping.

1. Check the listing to see if you’re buying directly from the big store or a third party. Note that “fulfilled by” indicates a third-party vendor. It’s not the same as “sold by.”

2. If it’s a third party, try to check out the seller by name. Most listings contain a link to the seller’s page. Check for things like address, phone number, customer reviews, and other accreditation.

3. When you can, buy from authorized retailers such as official brand stores. If you are buying from a third party, contact them and ask for checkable info on the source of the product.

4. Price check. Although some scammers do try to match their prices to those of the real items to make them look genuine, many of them also offer too-good-to-be-true prices.

5. When you’re checking out, make sure you’re on a secure web page beginning with “https” (not just “http”) and containing a padlock icon. If they’re not there, don’t trust the site.

6. When you receive your item, check as much as possible if they seem to be genuine items. Is the branding and color correct? With time-critical items, are “use by” dates wrong or missing?

7. If you think you’ve got a fake, contact the seller or big store operator and try to get your money back. If it’s a branded item, see if you can contact the brand owner. You can also complain to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission — you may not get your money back, but you could be saving others from making the same costly mistake.

Kimberly Gianopoulos, director in international affairs and trade groups at GAO, comments: “I’m not telling anyone to not purchase anything online anymore; that would be unreasonable, but certainly you can look for various things that would help guard you against getting something that’s counterfeit.”

An estimated 10 percent of all products sold through online shopping, as well as in stores and on our streets and marketplaces, are fakes. While most of the big stores say they’re doing all they can to remove these frauds, it’s clearly an ongoing problem. Be vigilant!

Alert of the Week

Are you in pain and on medication to treat it? If so, watch out for phone callers offering a new, experimental medication.

They may be offering a fake product, something that has not been approved, or a genuine alternative but one that hasn’t been prescribed by a medical professional.

Whatever — they just want to get their hands on your money or that of your health insurers.

Never accept offers like this. It may even be illegal. Always consult your physician or other health professional before switching medications.

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.