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Fake goods pose real risks when shopping online

Gavel to Gavel

published in The Journal Record | December 22, 2016

By Rachel Blue

“‘Twas the week before Christmas, and one click of the mouse ordered the presents for all in the house. With two-day free shipping and discounts galore, we just shop online – why go to a store?”

Stress, traffic, the lure of free shipping, and the freedom to shop wearing pajamas make online shopping very attractive. Sites like eBay or Amazon may offer the opportunity to bestow the gift of a designer handbag or a vintage watch at a price that’s within reach. Those sites offer some legitimate bargains – closeouts, overstock, or closet cleanouts may be behind the excellent prices.

But they may also be fakes. Counterfeit goods are non-genuine goods that use a trademark without the trademark owner’s permission. Online sales in the United States have almost doubled in the last five years, from $168 billion in 2010 to $341 billion in 2015.

At the same time, counterfeit goods now account for about $461 billion in global sales. In part, the spike is tied to the rise in online shopping. It’s much easier for the manufacturers of counterfeit goods to move product online, and no brick-and-mortar stores or locations means that it’s also easy to avoid getting caught.

Brand owners have been fighting back. Some, like Birkenstock, have pulled their products altogether from online retailers. Others have persuaded the big retailers to step up anti-counterfeiting measures. However, most industry experts agree that real change can’t come only from the supply side of the equation. To make a real difference in the problem, consumer demand must dry up.

The most immediate consequence for a U.S. buyer of a fake purse might just be an easily broken handle, but the repercussions are far more serious. Counterfeit goods have ties to illegal child labor, terrorists, human trafficking operations, and organized crime. Buying fake goods from online dealers can put you at risk for identity theft, credit card fraud, hacking and malware installation. Although it’s not illegal in the U.S. (yet) to buy counterfeit goods for personal use, it is in several other countries.

Fakes aren’t always easy to spot, especially since you can’t examine them closely when you’re shopping online. If you think it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

This article appeared in the December 22, 2016, issue of The Journal Record. It is reproduced with permission from the publisher. © The Journal Record Publishing Co.