I recently participated in a national campaign to warn consumers about the prevalence of counterfeit products—they are virtually everywhere. And more importantly, to let people know that there isn’t one failsafe method at this time to guarantee the authenticity of the products you purchase.
But, knowing the legitimacy of who and where you buy products from is a definite step in the right direction.
This topic is so important that 25 media outlets across the country picked up the story and talked with Systech about how consumers can be safe this holiday purchasing season. Here’s some of the Q&A we covered:
How often are consumers victims of counterfeiting?
The sad truth is DAILY. The global market for counterfeit goods is over 1.5 trillion dollars annually—that’s the GDP of a large country. Obviously, the level of danger of being a victim depends on the type of counterfeit purchased. For an article of clothing, the risks are in substandard quality. 80% of French perfume manufacturers have reported finding counterfeits in the market over the past 5 years. 80%! But with drugs, nutraceuticals and food—the risks could be one’s life.
What types of products are the most counterfeited?
If a brand has a successful product, it is likely to be counterfeited somewhere. In the US, high volumes of fake fashion, footwear, consumer goods, drugs and toys are common. New, trendy items are often subject to counterfeiting.
Remember the big fad of the Rainbow Loom a couple years ago? They were in market for around 6 months when the counterfeits started appearing. The brand had to put information on their website to educate consumers how to identify a fake product. Well… that information only made the counterfeits better!
There have been numerous news cases of fake cosmetics that caused real harm from allergens and toxins in the ingredients, such as lead, mercury, e. coli and arsenic. Stories of fake vape cartridges causing serious harm and even death are all over the news. Vape manufacturers are getting a bad rap, but the CDC has shown that over 80% of incidents are from counterfeit products.
20,000 counterfeit OralB replacement spinning heads were just seized last week by customs in Philadelphia. These were part of a large shipment, destined for discount retailers.
Counterfeits extend into unexpected areas that are not top of mind. Items like airbags and other auto parts, airplane parts and industrial components are widely counterfeited. Again, almost everything is subject to counterfeiting.
What is the risk to consumers when buying counterfeit goods?
There are multiple layers of risk to consumers. First and foremost, it’s personal safety. We’ve seen numerous examples of counterfeit cosmetics purchased that caused damage to skin far beyond just irritation. Fake drugs provide zero help to curing illness, and usually contain harmful ingredients.
Fake toys that don’t meet the regulated US safety standards often have dangerous parts and harmful chemicals in dyes and paints. For instance, recent seizures of fake bicycles showed high levels of lead in the paint.
A second layer is more about doing the right thing. Counterfeit production and distribution are illegal and typically run by crime syndicates as well as quasi-legitimate foreign enterprises. Purchasing counterfeits knowingly and unknowingly fuels an incredibly lucrative illicit economy. It pulls the legitimate economy down.
What are brands doing to protect consumers?
Brands are deploying a layered approach to protecting products. There are numerous overt and covert mechanisms being used such as foils, seals, special designs and things like UV inks and specialized electronics. Some brands are looking at digital tools like QR codes to link with consumers, but those are static and can be easily copied by counterfeiters, just like the traditional methods listed above. The search continues for the most effective anti-counterfeiting solution.
What is the latest technology available to combat this issue?
The most interesting solutions are next-generation digital technologies that would enable consumers to confirm product authenticity AND connect with the brand. One advanced approach uses the microvariations in a printed package barcode to create a unique “fingerprint” for each individual product. Because the solution is based on the dynamic printing process, every fingerprint is uniquely different—even if you have one million products with the same UPC barcode on the package. Counterfeit products would immediately be recognized as non-fingerprinted and not authentic.
This fingerprinting technology extends further to allow brands to engage directly with their customers. Smartphones are used for authentication, which provides location information, and the opportunity for incredibly targeted marketing. Unique authentication also allows for better recalls. This fingerprinting technology is very exciting for both manufacturers and consumers.
How can consumers protect themselves from buying counterfeit brands as they’re shopping this holiday season?
It’s not so much what you’re buying but who and where you’re buying it from. With the massive shift to online buying, counterfeiters have followed suit and bombarded e-marketplaces with fake products.
Today, it’s extremely easy for a counterfeiter to establish an online presence on a platform like Amazon and begin selling. The seller looks completely legit and the product pictures/description look completely legit, but they’re not. Often, consumers can only tell something’s wrong after they receive the merchandise—i.e. it’s not the right color or consistency—and sometimes they can’t even tell then.
Another thing to look out for is price. If it sounds too good to be true—i.e. that $100 face cream is available for $60—it’s most likely counterfeit. Also, if you encounter brands you don’t expect to be found in certain places like discount outlets, the product may be counterfeit.
- Again, if the price is too good to be true—it IS too good to be true.
- Research the seller of the product you’re interested in. Don’t assume you’re buying directly from the brand itself. Of course, many third-party vendors selling online are legitimate, and some may be authorized retailers. Before you click to purchase, go to the brand’s website and confirm you’re dealing with an authorized seller.
- Amazon and eBay are platforms. They enable both legitimate and non-legitimate third-party retailers to operate. Do your homework on the vendor you are purchasing from.
- Look at verified purchaser reviews, seller reviews and service reviews. Most importantly, look at how long the seller has been in business online. Are they established and trusted?
- Be careful of web redirects. Redirects will usually send you to “spoofing” websites that are not offering legitimate merchandise.
Check out some of these interviews from our recent media campaign to learning more about how to avoid counterfeits and shop safe.