Mix-ups at Amazon.com Inc.’s warehouses have led to customers receiving counterfeit products — even when they’re buying from a legitimate third-party seller. But experts say eBay Inc. and others have also struggled to stem the rise of counterfeit goods, leaving it up to the consumer to distinguish what’s real and what’s fake.
Online retail giant Amazon “comingles” products from third-party sellers, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, which has resulted in some consumers receiving counterfeit goods even though they were bought from a legitimate manufacturer. (A spokesman for Amazon declined to comment.)
In January, online auction site eBay reached a confidential legal settlement with French cosmetics company L’Oreal relating to the sale of fake L’Oreal goods via eBay. “The parties believe that cooperation, rather than litigation, is the way forward to fight against counterfeiting,” the two companies said in a joint statement.
But that means consumers are often left to discern if a product is genuine, experts say. Counterfeit goods account for almost 10% of worldwide trade, totaling $500 billion annually, according to the World Customs Organization. “It’s hard enough to detect counterfeit goods in the physical world,” says Jeff Hardy, director of Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy at the International Chamber of Commerce. “There are hundreds of thousands of rogue sites out there.” Sites peddling phony merchandise can disappear overnight and reappear under a different name the next day, he adds. He advises double-checking the product with the manufacturer’s site, especially if there’s a steep discount.
While fake designer perfume or designer watches might emit a bad smell or simply stop working, other purchases could be life-threatening. Food, electrical and safety products should only be bought from online retailers you know and trust, says Joseph LaRocca, vice-president of loss prevention at Retail Partners, an L.A.-based consulting company for retailers and law enforcement agencies. They include cellphone chargers, power tools and lithium batteries, Christmas tree lights, power-extension cords, life vests for sailing, car safety seats for children, and children’s toys and stuffed animals that could become a choking hazard. “All these items can be very dangerous if they’re not constructed properly,” he says.