- The holidays are a hotbed of counterfeit goods and scams, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
- Counterfeits cost the global economy "over $500 billion a year," said Kasie Brill, executive director of brand protection at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
- Fake goods not only serve as a drain on the global economy, they often help fund criminal organizations and can pose health risks due to their shoddy construction or toxic materials they contain.
With Black Friday less than 48 hours away, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched the Shop Safe campaign today, a new initiative that aims to educate consumers on how to avoid purchasing counterfeit goods and falling for other scams.
Kasie Brill, executive director of brand protection at the Chamber of Commerce, said the sale of counterfeit goods "costs the global economy over $500 billion" annually. While the idea of fighting back against those losses would be cause enough for creating the Shop Safe initiative, she said the struggle against counterfeits has a deep law enforcement connection as well.
"Disrupting organized crime behind the counterfeit trade is top priority and requires the business community, the government, and consumers to work closely together," she said. "The Chamber's annual Shop Safe Campaign looks to help educate and protect shoppers from fake goods."
The problems counterfeit goods create
No one wants to feel like they've been duped, especially when they're buying gifts for loved ones. Finding out that the item you got wasn't the genuine article can leave you feeling embarrassed, cheated and angry. But there's more to it than emotions – Chamber officials claim counterfeit goods can harm more than your ego.
One of the biggest fears government officials have with fake goods is the lax or shoddy construction involved in their production. Nearly every item on the market is regulated in some way, whether it's to prevent exposure to toxic chemicals or for other safety reasons. Counterfeit goods, however, don't follow those same guidelines. All that matters to counterfeiters is that it's close enough to the real thing for customers to buy it.
"Whether it's a fake toy with toxic paint, contaminated cosmetics, a winter coat without padding, or a phone charger that can ignite, these unregulated goods do not comply with laws or safety standards and can pose a serious threat to consumers' health and safety," Brill said. "Unsuspecting shoppers must be vigilant."
Toxic materials are generally found in fake toys with defective parts and bad paint, but fake cosmetics have been found to contain "high levels of mercury, arsenic, and even traces of urine and feces, all of which can cause severe allergic reactions and possible long-term harm to your skin, eyes, and hair," according to the Chamber of Commerce.
Not only can fake goods cause health problems, they impact the economy. If customers lose their trust in legitimate products for fear of being fooled by counterfeits, then spending goes down. Furthermore, officials believe counterfeits "undermine innovation" and "rob businesses of the ability to promote their own authentic innovation." [Read related article: Online Searches Often Lead Customers to Counterfeit Goods]
This ultimately results in major losses for small businesses like Lay-n-Go, whose CEO and founder Amy Fazackerley said they felt the pain of having to compete against knock-offs of their patented products. "For small businesses, these counterfeits could truly break you. They become a distraction to your business focus, take away hard-earned sales dollars and damage the brand name you spent years building," she said. "These knock-offs often cause complete consumer confusion. In our case, the consumer thinks they are purchasing an original Lay-n-Go, because they use our copyrighted images and patented design, only to be disappointed when they receive a cheap, infringing knock-off."
How to stay away from fakes
While the U.S. government regularly works to combat counterfeits, it's remained a constant struggle, thanks to IP theft in countries abroad like China. Since this will continue to be an ongoing problem, government officials posted 10 tips to reduce the risk of purchasing fake goods.
The following list was provided by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
Trust your instincts. If it's too good to be true, it probably is.
Insist on secure transactions. When doing business online, make sure your payments are submitted via websites beginning with https:// (the "s" stands for secure), and look for a lock symbol at the bottom of your browser.
Watch for missing sales tax charges. Businesses trading in counterfeit goods often do not report their sales to financial authorities.
Seek quality assurance in the secondary market. Reputable and reliable resellers have comprehensive inspection and authentication procedures. They also have technicians that inspect the equipment they sell.
Be particularly careful purchasing medicine online. Reports suggest that 96% of online pharmacies do not meet safety or legal standards, so it is especially important that you are vigilant when buying your medicines online.
Be vigilant when buying abroad. When shopping on international websites, look for trusted vendors that use identifiable privacy and security safeguards, and have legitimate addresses.
Guard your personal information. Illicit websites often install malware that can steal your credit card information and other information stored on your computer.
Scrutinize labels, packaging and contents. Look for missing or expired "use by" dates, broken or missing safety seals, missing warranty information, or otherwise unusual packaging.
Report fake products. Report unsafe products to the Consumer Product Safety Commission by calling (800) 638-2772 or by visiting their website, https://www.saferproducts.gov/. If you suspect you have received a fake, counterfeit or substandard product, report it to the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center at https://www.iprcenter.gov/referral/view or to your local law enforcement.
- Spread the word. Share these tips! Teach your family, friends, and co-workers about counterfeits.