SANTA MONICA, CA--(Marketwire - Dec 13, 2012) - With less than two weeks before Christmas Day, many would-be Santas may be disappointed to find their recent purchases of gifts for loved ones, may in fact be counterfeits or knock-offs. But according to the Consumer Fraud Center, they can still take steps to ensure they can get their money back and receive an authentic item to put under the tree.
"Aggressive efforts by law enforcement have forced more cybercriminals to be more creative and inventive in selling counterfeit or fake goods to unsuspecting consumers," said James Lee, executive director of the Consumer Fraud Center. "With the sometimes frenzied shopping during the holidays, it's all too easy to fall prey to one of these scams, especially through legitimate shopping portals such as Amazon, but there are steps people can take if they find they've been taken advantage of."
First, the Consumer Fraud Center recommends that consumers verify they have indeed received the genuine article they ordered:
- For most consumer electronics and small appliances, they can check with the manufacturer by providing the serial number for the product to determine its authenticity;
- Consumers should also check product packaging for poor grammar, graphics and cheap materials, which are often a tip off of a fake item. This is especially true when ordering a product through a third-party portal such as Amazon Marketplace where a counterfeit item might be repackaged in an Amazon-branded shipping box to give the illusion of legitimacy.
If a consumer finds they did indeed receive a counterfeit or fake product, they are urged to report it immediately to appropriate law enforcement agencies such as the Internet Crime Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov), a partnership between the FBI and National White Collar Crime Center, and the Consumer Fraud Center's complaint system (www.consumerfraudcenter.com).
"Trafficking in counterfeit goods violates federal law, so if a consumer believes they have received a bogus product, they should contact the manufacturer of the genuine article to verify, then forward the purchase information to an appropriate law enforcement agency and follow up with the seller to demand a refund," Lee said. "If the seller refuses to cooperate, you may also wish to dispute the transaction with your credit card issuer."
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the five largest categories of items sold online and most likely to be counterfeited or faked include:
- Music and videos
- Electronics and appliances
- Books and magazines
- Furniture and home furnishings
- Clothing and accessories
Lee noted an additional area of concern is the significant number of consumer complaints received over some retailers' refund and return policies when it comes to counterfeit goods purchased online.
For example, Amazon reserves the right to charge customers return shipping charges if -- in its sole discretion -- it determines the return is not due to "Amazon error." However, Amazon has taken the position that when it ships counterfeit goods from its warehouses through its "fulfillment by Amazon" program, the transaction is entirely the fault of the nominal merchant and not Amazon, Lee said.
"If Amazon's customer service department refuses to issue a refund for counterfeit goods sold through its site, be sure to dispute the transaction with your credit card issuer, or if you used PayPal, file a dispute, then send a complaint to Amazon's corporate offices and to local law enforcement and our site," Lee added.
In order to avoid some of the hassles of counterfeiting and fakes sold online, the Consumer Fraud Center recommends that shoppers avoid third-party scams by purchasing directly from manufacturer websites or from retailers such as Walmart, Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond, which offer online discount pricing and convenience, along with unique "brick and mortar" features such as in-store pickup and well-established refund and return policies.
"By following these suggestions, you may feel like you are losing out on online bargains, but don't forget that major retailers typically match prices for authentic merchandise. Moreover, you will gain the security of buying a genuine article and avoid the hassle of trying to return a counterfeit or fake after the fact," Lee said. "Enjoy your holidays and be cybersafe!"
The Consumer Fraud Center
The Consumer Fraud Center is dedicated to uncovering the use of legitimate online portals and shopping destinations for the sale of counterfeit and fraudulent consumer goods and products. It relies on its network of activated consumers who submit reports on counterfeit goods sold on websites to create a national database of products searchable by consumers, media and law enforcement. For more information, please visit us at www.consumerfraudcenter.com.