Consumer Reports urges Congress to pass the INFORM Consumers Act to create a more transparent and safe online marketplace.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Consumer Reports urged online shoppers today to be on the lookout for counterfeit goods and offered tips to avoid being duped this holiday season. The sale of fake brand-name goods, which was once limited to occasional street carts and going-out-of-business stores, has steadily expanded to major e-commerce platforms, such as Amazon and Walmart.com.
There are a number of steps consumers can take to protect themselves, and CR is also calling on Congress to pass the INFORM Consumers Act to hold e-commerce platforms accountable for preventing fake goods from being sold by third-party sellers. Consumer Reports also urge consumers to contact their Congressmembers to show their support of the Bill.
“Counterfeiters are looking to take advantage of shoppers at a time when many Americans are still recovering from the financial impacts of the pandemic,” said Laurel Lehman, Policy Analyst at Consumer Reports. “Consumers need a transparent and reliable online marketplace where they can trust that they are buying legitimate products from accountable sellers. Shoppers can reduce their risk of being scammed by being vigilant, but Congress should hold e-commerce sites more accountable for curbing the sale of counterfeit goods by passing the INFORM Consumers Act.”
“We don’t have much time before this measure likely gets a vote in the coming weeks, so it’s important we flood Congress now with messages that we want what we pay for — and not fakes,” said Marcus Jones, Financial Fairness Campaign Manager at Consumer Reports.
In 2018, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that 20 out of 47 brand-name products—including shoes, travel mugs, cosmetics, and UL-certified chargers—purchased from third-party vendors on five popular online consumer websites were fake. This problem encompasses a wide range of products, from electronics to cosmetics to household items.
To reduce the risk of accidentally buying counterfeit gifts this holiday, Consumer Reports shares immediate actions shoppers can take:
- Research the seller: Before you buy, check if it’s a third-party vendor, and learn more about the company. On both Amazon and Walmart.com, shoppers can click on the vendor’s name to view its profile, where you can see feedback from other buyers, as well as contact information and return policies. Try out the customer service by asking questions about a product.
- Be wary of discounts: Find the item’s current retail price by checking authorized retailers—they are often listed on the brand’s website. If a third-party seller is selling a new product for less than the established price, that could be an indication that it’s a fake. Even a small discount may be a red flag, since more counterfeiters are charging almost as much as the real thing in an effort to trick customers
- Scan the customer reviews: Many people rely on Amazon customer reviews to find reliable products. But the reviews on product pages are aggregated regardless of who the seller is. If you look closely, you may see reviews that are wildly different for the same product, which could be due to quality control issues, durability issues, and different customer experiences—or this could signal a problem.
- Examine the product’s packaging: Brands generally put their logos on packaging, not just the products. If your purchase arrives in anonymous or opened wrapping, that could be a red flag. If you do see a brand logo, compare it with the one pictured on the company’s website. Misspellings and differences in design could mean you’ve got a fake good. Also look for certifications, use-by dates, and attached warranties, which should arrive with the product. In some cases, you can verify the serial number through the manufacturer’s website.
- Know the hallmarks of the real product: Before you shop online, get familiar with the product’s appearance, including the brand markings, any unique details and materials used. Genuine manufacturers will put their logo in specific places, like hardware detailing on a purse or on a tag inside the product.
Shoppers should follow these steps to claim a refund if they receive a counterfeit:
- Reach out to the vendor: Notify the seller that the item you received appears not to be genuine. It can be helpful to include photos. The vendor might not have known that the product was a fake and may quickly refund you. But if the seller denies selling a counterfeit and refuses a refund, or doesn’t respond at all, escalate your complaint. If you made your purchase from an online marketplace like Amazon or Walmart, you can report the third-party seller and initiate a complaint or possible return. Both Amazon and Walmart investigate counterfeit claims and will suspend the vendor from the site if they are found to be selling fakes.
- Get help from payment companies: If you are denied a refund, and you used a credit card, you can dispute the charge, and the card company will investigate. For those who used PayPal, consumers who bought a counterfeit product are covered through the company’s Purchase Protection policy.
- Contact government regulators: Consumers can also file a complaint with their state consumer protection office; you can find the link to yours at USA.gov. You can also report online vendor counterfeits to other federal regulators at STOPfakes.gov. Even if you don’t get help with your individual complaint, letting officials know about the products might help spark a broader crackdown
To learn more about the INFORM Consumers Act and how consumers can reduce the risk of purchasing counterfeit products, join Consumer Reports’ upcoming webinar on Tuesday, December 7, 2021 from 12-1pm ET.
About Consumer Reports: Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports (CR) is an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that works with consumers to create a fair and just marketplace. Known for its rigorous testing and ratings of products, CR advocates for laws and company practices that put consumers first. CR is dedicated to amplifying the voices of consumers to promote safety, digital rights, financial fairness, and sustainability. The organization surveys millions of Americans every year, reports extensively on the challenges and opportunities for today’s consumers, and provides ad-free content and tools to 6 million members across the U.S.
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