As the holiday shopping season ramps up, following a record-breaking Black Friday and prospects for massive spending on Cyber Monday, consumers are poised to add even more momentum to the unprecedented growth of e-commerce in 2020. Given many consumers’ plans to haul in highly-desired electronics, toys and household goods as a way to make the ending of a stressful year a bit more joyful for friends and family, online counterfeiters may be able to take advantage of vast opportunities to make an illegal profit. The rapid growth of e-commerce has led to a proliferation of online counterfeiters operating on stand-alone websites, through large e-commerce platforms, and via social media. Many legitimate companies are fighting back against the spread of online counterfeiters, a fact highlighted by Amazon’s recent lawsuit against social media influencers peddling fake goods on Instagram and TikTok. Yet, the Internet can make it difficult to identify the individuals behind counterfeiting schemes and the flood of consumers shopping online creates a substantial incentive for bad actors to continue their illicit operations.
In their book White-Collar Crime: An Opportunity Perspective, Drs. Michael Benson and Sally Simpson state that “particular crimes have particular opportunity structures (i.e., conditions that make a particular type of crime possible and attractive to potential offenders)…” The opportunity structure for online product counterfeiting is built upon counterfeiters having access to large numbers of consumers through websites and platforms that allow the counterfeiters to hide their identities and the illicit nature of the products they are selling. Additionally, weak regulatory structures generally make counterfeiting a low-risk criminal activity with few criminal penalties. While recent legislation is poised to change this situation, it is still the case that the Internet provides counterfeiters ideal criminal opportunities during this holiday season.
Online product counterfeiting opportunities are also dependent upon consumers being unable to determine fake products from legitimate items. The doppelganger fakes are made more deceptive when they are advertised on legitimate e-commerce platforms using pictures and logos stolen from legitimate companies. Because consumers cannot physically interact with products before they make their purchases, buying decisions are typically influenced by the information provided to consumers. Counterfeiters are adept at manipulating this information, yet there are ways that consumers can protect themselves from becoming the next victim of online criminals. While there are no ‘bullet-proof’ solutions, when shopping online consumers can use some of the following tactics to guard against falling prey to counterfeiters:
· Whenever possible, buy from the company’s website. Not all companies provide the option to purchase their products direct from their website, yet consumers should take advantage of buying from those companies that do have this option. Searching the Internet for deal sites and online bazaars in the hopes of finding the same item at a lower price can drive you right into the clutches of the counterfeiters.
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· When shopping on an e-commerce site, pay attention to who is selling the item. Many companies sell their products on e-commerce websites, while other sell through distributors on these platforms. Each of these options is a safe choice for consumers. However, if you find that an item is being sold by the company that makes the item as well as by other sellers, avoid the temptation to save a few pennies and buy from the original manufacturer.
· If the company that makes the product does not sell on an e-commerce site, investigate the other sellers before you buy. There are many instances where a company does not have a presence online – they have neither a standalone website nor do they sell through e-commerce platforms. In these cases, check out the seller profiles. Have they been selling for long? What are their ratings and what feedback, including pictures, have other users left about the seller? If you can see the other items sold by the seller, determine if they have an odd mix of products. For example, if the seller is offering luxury branded clothing, top shelf health and beauty suppliers, name brand electronics and jewelry from top manufacturers you should be suspicious. Many companies do not sell through distribution and should you find a seller who seems to have the very best of everything, it may be too good to be true!
· If the price seems too good to be true, trust your instincts. Even if the difference in price is just a dollar or so, compare the sale price you have found online to what the legitimate company is advertising. Everyone wants to believe that distributors get very favorable pricing or that buying in bulk leads to deep discounts that mean savings for consumers, yet this is not always the case. Some companies set minimums on the prices at which their products can be sold. If you see a pricing trend emerging through your searches, you may do well to avoid the deeply discounted item offered on an e-commerce site.
· Avoid items where online sellers are stocked up, but legitimate channels are sold out. Yes, products do sell out in different markets at different times and the Internet has made it possible for seller to advertise their products all over the world. Yet, if an online seller has a product available before it is available through the manufacturer’s legitimate channels you should be highly suspicious. Delay the need for gratification and wait for a more secure buying option. Additionally, should you find that one seller who magically has the item you want while all other legitimate channels are sold out you should be equally as cautious. If the manufacturer has none in stock but someone online has plenty to sell, you may be walking into the clutches of a counterfeiter.
Shop smart and shop safe online this holiday season. You can maximize your ability to spread holiday cheer, while decreasing your chances of being the next victims of counterfeiting.
Source: Forbes – Business