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VOL. 132 | NO. 257 | Thursday, December 28, 2017

Counterfeit Products Harm Consumers and Businesses

Randy Hutchinson

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Fingerlings were hot toys this past holiday season. They’re interactive monkey finger puppets that sold out quickly at some stores. Desperate parents searching for them online were relieved to find the toys for sale on well-known and other seemingly legitimate websites.

Instead of Fingerlings, however, some buyers got counterfeit products with names like Finger Monkey and Baby Monkey. Even Amazon and Walmart had to pull fakes offered by third parties on their websites.

The BBB in Baltimore issued an alert about a website impersonating Pandora jewelry. The real website is pandora.net. The phony one was pandorapick.com and has been taken down. People who thought they were ordering real Pandora jewelry got defective pieces or nothing at all.

Not getting the real toy or bracelet you ordered is bad enough, but some counterfeit products create safety hazards. Pharmaceuticals can harm people, auto parts can fail, and electronics may have substandard wiring that causes fires.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that global imports of counterfeit products amount to almost a half-trillion dollars annually. Counterfeiters usually don’t pay taxes or duties on their products and may not adhere to child and other labor laws or to safety standards.

Counterfeiting also negatively impacts companies with a well-known, respected brand. They lose sales, consumer confidence in the brand is eroded, and they incur legal and other costs defending it. WowWee, the manufacturer of Fingerlings, filed a federal lawsuit against 165 sellers of counterfeit Fingerlings in October.

A study found that the most counterfeited products are wearing apparel and accessories, consumer electronics, footwear, and watches and jewelry. The latter accounted for just 10 percent of the number of products, but 43 percent of the value.

A price that’s too good to be true is the biggest indicator that an item may be a fake. Overuse of words like “genuine” or “authentic” or sneaky phrases like “inspired by” in the product description are also red flags.

Craftsmanship is king for luxury brands. If you can inspect an item before buying it, look for telltale signs it’s a fake, like misaligned stitching, inferior quality clasps and zippers, and misspelled words on the labels.

These are red flags that a website may be selling fake merchandise:

• The website design is poor, with poor quality photos and grammatical errors.

• The domain name is suspect. Most retail websites have simple URLs, often just the company name. Extra words like “deals” or “super discounts” indicate you’re probably not on the real website.

• The website hasn’t been around very long.

• You can’t pay with a credit or debit card.

• There’s no phone number or physical address. You can only contact the company by filling out an online form.

• There’s no refund policy or it’s not clear.

Check out the seller’s record with the BBB and Google its name with terms like “scam” or “complaints” to see if other consumers have reported problems.

Randy Hutchinson is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South and can be reached at rhutchinson@bbbmidsouth.org.

PROPERTY SALES 97 418 8,253
MORTGAGES 112 508 9,293
BUILDING PERMITS 194 1,059 18,126
BANKRUPTCIES 46 208 5,367