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Don’t fall foul of fakes

Fake stamp

From dodgy designer bags to shady sunglasses, counterfeiters are turning away from market stalls to online auction sites to sell their phony products. Would you be able to spot a fake product online?

According to the 2012/13 Intellectual Property Office Annual Report, around seven million people visit sites offering illegal content in the UK each and every month.

One of my friends has a beautiful Mulberry bag. It has the bold gold clasp, the plaited handle and the signature satchel style. The only problem; it’s a fake. She also admitted to me that the zipper handle on her last fake Mulberry bag had fallen off after just over a year.

The darker side to fakery

There is a darker side to fake goods as well, particularly in relation to fake electrical products. Products that have been purchased directly from non-EU manufacturers often bypass the normal safety checks with a UK wholesaler, and some electrical products could cause a fire or electrocution.

Apple recently began a worldwide programme to replace third party and counterfeit USB chargers due to ‘safety issues’. Apple says it will replace third-party chargers for an official one for $10 or the equivalent. This follows news that a Chinese woman was electrocuted and killed by a non-Apple charger.

Finding out the fakes

Fakes are increasingly being sold online, either through impressive looking online ‘shops’ selling products directly at discounted prices – or advertised through social media or auction sites. They can be difficult to spot as well – as our gallery shows.

One easy way to spot a fake is that they’re cheaper than you’d expect them do. However, the tricky bit is that getting a deal below the retail price is the very nature of an auction site! There are still a number of tips for spotting fake goods online – such as always looking at the product and seller’s feedback on auction sites.

Which? Conversation contributor Ron told us about his fake Sennheiser headphones:

‘I complained to Amazon customer services who advised me to contact the seller direct. I did and had my money reimbursed after returning the product. The seller was new to Amazon market and by this stage had accumulated a number of complaints. He is no longer listed on Amazon market.’

If you’ve fallen foul of fakery, you should report it directly to the seller as well as reporting it to Trading Standards.

Have you bought a fake product, deliberately or accidentally? Did you try to return it and what happened when you did? Is there anything you would buy a fake of – and what would you definitely avoid?


My favourite….
I was looking for a camera battery.
Looking at an auction on ebay titled “Genuine Nikon Ion Battery”, I checked the picture and ION was spelt IOM on the battery !!!!!!!

Went to a local camera store and ordered one instead.

I do not understand Apple’s philanthropic gesture of replacing potentially dangerous fake chargers. I doubt if Rolex will make a similar offer.

But what their gesture does show, is that they’ve probably been overcharging for the genuine one, if they can suddenly start selling them for $10. I wonder how many people will now buy a fake for $1 knowing they can save over the price of a genuine one just by doing the exchange,

Of the two problems highlighted here – [1] people are being diddled, and [2] there is a risk to health, or safety, or both – I feel the second is by far the more important and should attract more attention from trading standards/consumer protection. As we know from other Which? Conversations, perfectly legitimate traders with impressive and powerful websites are selling non-compliant electrical connectors, both directly and indirectly [through other traders under their umbrella], and not doing much to stop it. A lot of people knowingly buy fake products, probably because they cannot afford the real thing. After all if a handbag looks like a Mulberry, functions like a Mulberry, and gives a few months’ service like any other handbag, that might be good enough; the fact that it hasn’t cost as much as a Mulberry is a bonus [even though the selling price is still a rip-off because the quality of material and manufacture is shoddy]. Same with a fake Rolex watch. I know someone who bought one on holiday in Greece; it looked more-or-less like a Rolex and told the time for a few months but no reputable jeweller would repair it or fit a new battery. None of that mattered – it looked smart enough to impress and nobody else would have been rude enough to question its provenance. In terms of product quality, buying on-line carries the same risks as the old-fashioned mail order. If you can’t examine the goods before purchase you know you are taking a risk. The added complication these days is the almost complete lack of protection when things go wrong. For mail order, suppliers needed to advertise through magazines and newspapers; once the publishers started receiving complaints about particular traders or products the advertising was terminated. The on-line open market place is a free-for-all on a global scale where any dodgy dealer can set up their stall and con the gullible. Other than much better consumer education, it’s difficult to see what can effectively be done to control it.

I’ve been sold counterfeit medicine by a pharmacy

And once, I went to an official Canon shop to buy a camera battery, and they sold me a fake one which was defective

Scott says:
13 August 2013

fl – How do you know that the medicine you were sold was counterfeit and not a genuine generic version of a product whose patent has now expired?

I agree – I think this is a pretty big problem, especially with electricals. I would be very wary of buying these on sites like eBay or Amazon as it can be difficult to tell the real thing from a fake.

My mum has fallen victim to this unwittingly several times. She bought Disney DVDs (from eBay and Amazon) as presents thinking they were genuine, and it was only when we saw them / tried them out that we spotted a couple of signs they weren’t the real deal. She couldn’t tell at all (they were pretty convincing copies). This is not as worrying as unsafe electricals obviously, but it was distressing for her, disappointing for the intended recipients, and impossible to get a refund.

I think the difference is that in ‘the old days’ people were usually more aware they were buying a fake. On the internet it is much bigger scale and much harder to tell genuine from fake. As John Ward says, when it is a reputable online brand (e.g. Amazon or eBay) people tend to assume they can trust any traders on the marketplace as legitimate, but this isn’t the case.

I tend to avoid online marketplaces offered by amazon, play, ebay etc unless its a trader with a normal retail presence. Otherwise I’m just not prepared to take the risk.

Paul Banks says:
9 August 2013

Unfortunately, I have unwittingly bought a few fake items online. “…discontinued Cartier frames” on USA eBay turned out to be fake (spelling mistake on case), as was the IBM battery for my ThinkPad.

My Canon EOS 650D camera which I was assured by BigNorman.com was UK sourced was in fact a grey import from Gibraltar. A year later I’m still waiting for the proper language installation CD.

However, overall I am very pleased with my other online purchases.

wev says:
9 August 2013

Can you use the camera without the CD?

Do you have a copy or screenshot of the ad, or a printout of it? Or is the ad for it now the same as when you bought it?

Bignorman.com is in Gibraltar, so you can ask Trading Standards to do something.

Websites such as Amazon that result in fakes being purchased should be fined. If they stuck to reselling only what they buy, or used legitimate resellers that could be trusted, they would not have a problem. It is because they make money from uncontrolled sources accessed through them that many problems arise. They are responsible and should be held to account; maybe then these practices would be less prevalent.

Earlier this year, I bought 100 one amp plug fuses from a well established Amazon Marketplace trader. A substantial proportion were faulty or out of specification and could overheat. Amazon took no action and the product is still on sale. Trading Standards took no action. I think I reported the details to Which? at the time.

I am not planning to buy any electrical goods from Amazon in the near future, having heard numerous examples of incorrect and dangerous plugs on some of the goods they sell.

Most of us would be wary about buying from a company we have never heard of. Amazon Marketplace seems to be a scheme to encourage us to do this, by virtue of the fact that the sale is conducted through the Amazon website. Don’t expect much help from Amazon if you have a problem. I am not the first to discover this the hard way.

I am not especially critical of Amazon in general as I have made many good purchases from them, but I am now much more concerned about certain aspects of the business in the light of comments of other customers. The worry is that if companies like Amazon are seen to get away with supplying defective or non-compliant products then other firms will think they will be able to do so.

Amazon has gone from primarily a books and music on-line store to a general store offering a vast range of merchandise, sometimes sold directly and sometimes through their “market place”. The public assumes that traders under the Amazon umbrella are likely to be more responsible and that the goods they offer are likely to conform fully to European specifications and UK standards where applicable. This is not a reliable assumption. Examples have been quoted previously in Which? Conversations [with regard to indirct selling] to show that Amazon does not necessarily stand between the buyer and the seller in the case of a product deficiency; it merely acts as a facilitator to bring about the transaction. The rate of growth of Amazon in the UK, and the scale and reach of its product inventory, shows what a powerful force in retail it has become. The appeal to a trader of getting on the Amazon website is immense and it is possible that some firms are putting themselves on the brink of commercial suicide in order to get a slice of the turnover that Amazon can deliver. It is probably a cut-throat business and I expect margins are extremely thin after allowing for (a) the retail discount required in order to compete, and (b) the commission [presumably] payable to Amazon. Given the sheer number of categories and items in the catalogue it is virtually inevitable that many companies and products are admitted without much in the way of testing or inspection and there is therefore no warranty from Amazon in the case of items purchased through them rather than from them. For reputational reasons they might exercise some oversight and diligence but they are not going to commit the resources in staff time and expertise to give the level of customer assurance that some other retailers do. Amazon’s chief concern seems to be run a highly efficient logistics operation where fulfilment and delivery performance are the critical factors.

I would not consider Amazon to be particularly prone to selling or marketing fake or counterfeit products relative to other ‘value’, ‘bargain’, and ‘discount’ channels. With all such purchases, we just have to be more wary and make sure there is the possibility of effective consumer support in the event of problems, the more so as the price rises and the distance of the seller extends beyond reach.

Amazon could be persuaded to label on site those resellers and products they take responsibility for, and which they do not. This would clarify the position to the purchaser and allow them to judge risk against cost.

I bought my husband Bose earphones last year for his birthday, from Amazon. A small piece broke off in the earpiece this year and he contacted Bose as he had registered the product. Bose, after examining them said they were fake, Amazon aren’t interested as I have passed the initial guarantee period. I am now trying through my credit card company to see if I am covered….I don’t hold out much hope…..no one seems to be interested. By the way, the original seller on Amazon has disappeared.

My wife bought a copy of Despicable Me 2 recently from a site (claiming) to be based in the UK. It looks very professional, and given that the site came up high in the Google Search ratings and allowed payment through PayPal (which she thought would provide some protection) it seemed legitimate.

The dvd did seem fine on arrival, and the picture quality was fine. However, it did not contain extras and on closer inspection we realised it was a fake. The company has shown no interest in responding to our e-mails.

Then the disappointment started. PayPal only suggested we would get our money back, but since the return address was now in Thailand it would cost pretty much the cost of the dvd to return. They seemed to class it only as ‘not as described’ and not a counterfeit.

More surprisingly, the Federation Against Copyright Theft – FACT (the people that spend a lot of time with their discouragement of the fake dvd trade on legal products) and their partners Crimestoppers were only interested if we could supply a name, and not just a company name.

I wonder about a couple of things:
a) Where can I pass on my warning to others about this DVD website to prevent them from being ‘had’
b) How do FACT and Crimestoppers hope to eliminate dvd piracy if they show no interest in pursuing cases such as this?