The Extent of Fake/Counterfeit Goods Available Online
Most of us like a bargain. Add that to the struggling economic climate that means a lot of us now have less disposable income than ten years ago, and searching for the best price becomes even more important. The popularity of the internet means that many of us now shun the high street in favour of cheaper online prices. Mainstream, brick and mortar businesses that we have grown up with are finding it difficult to compete. But have we become so obsessed with online bargains that we are too complacent when shopping? I must admit that I am not keen on paying more for consumer goods than I have to. However, a week of watching a BBC1 programme Fake Britain, whilst eating a late breakfast, has been enough to send me running back to the high street for every purchase. Or, at least, to proceed with my online shopping a lot more carefully.
My Experience - Fake Football Kits
I first became alerted to the idea that I might have ordered a counterfeit football kit for my son whilst watching Fake Britain. I had ordered a Barcelona home kit for my young Messi fan from what I had assumed was a legit website. After waiting a very long time for the kit (I still haven't received it), I suddenly had a nagging doubt that this was not a good company to be dealing with. I googled reviews of it and my fears were confounded. I had been waiting all this time for a fake kit that had cost almost as much as an official replica.
Actually, the site (TotalKidsKits) does own up to selling fakes. I simply had not noticed this upon ordering. The word 'unbranded' is visible in an introductory paragraph on the home page, but I didn't read it properly. It is a lesson to me not to assume that any website is a reputable business without reading ALL of the information. But, I wonder, how many of us pay enough attention to the details? We have become so used to shopping online that it has become second nature to drop items into our 'baskets' and not give it a whole lot of thought - especially when it is a bargain.
I immediately emailed the company and said that I wanted to cancel the order because I did not want an unofficial kit. I did receive a prompt reply - my order could not be cancelled. I could not see an address and contact number displayed on the site - only a yahoo email address - so I asked for the returns address and said I thought that such business details are supposed to be displayed. After several further emails in which TotalKidsKits avoided the issue, I was redirected to the terms and conditions page where the business address was displayed, but it was very difficult to actually locate this information - as though actually they preferred to hide it. And the address was in Bangkok - and, of course, it might not even be real. The company also delighted in informing me that any return was subject to a 25% charge, plus (I assume) the cost of the postage - to Thailand. It makes any return rather pointless. My own brief internet research has identified this site as unsafe and a possible scam. On a final email, I pointed out that I had just read a review of TotalKidsKits from a customer who claimed their order had been intercepted at UK customs and destroyed - because manufacturing counterfeit products and then trying to import them into the UK is illegal. I didn't receive a response to this.
I have resigned myself to losing the money I spent and feel relieved that it wasn't a massively expensive purchase. However, I did not trust the sellers and so contacted my bank to cancel the card I used to pay with. Having an unscrupulous, anonymous person in Bangkok with possible access to my bank account filled me with dread. And, upon delving more deeply into the small print on the website, I was horrified to reveal segments that said TotalKidsKits is at liberty to share information given to them with their partners in other countries. Whilst they did declare credit card details would not be passed onto third parties, I am not taking any risks. Incidentally, I have since ordered an official kit from Soccerbox (soccerbox.com) in Staffordshire, England. It arrived two days later with the printing I requested (Messi,10) on the back and I could not be happier. An excellent company to which I would definitely return.
One of the world's most high profile corporations, it is little wonder that Apple products are often a target for counterfeit crooks. Products are often so closely copied - even down to the packaging, CE labels and guarantees - that the ordinary purchaser would have little chance of distinguishing between them. One woman appearing on Fake Britain had paid over two hundred pounds for a second hand 'iphone' on advertised on Gumtree, which she intended to present as a birthday gift for her husband. The item, when it arrrived, appeared to be genuine. However, it didn't work and was later identified as a counterfeit copy with cheap and inadequate components.
Another woman purchased an iphone charger online, at what she considered a bargain price. Yet, it is not only the phones themselves that are copied by counterfeit crooks - they go to just as much trouble to offer chargers that appear to be authentic When the charger arrived the customer was, at first, satisfied that it was the real deal. In fact, she had no reason to believe otherwise until she allowed her young daughter to use the charger whilst playing on her iphone - and came back into the room to find that it had burned through at the plug.
For me, one of the biggest shocks on Fake Britain was that some people are not content to just copy Apple's products. In fact, China houses a small handful of entire shops masquerading as authentic Apple establishments. The shop front is the same; the products appear to be the same (but are obviously counterfeit and inferior); even the uniforms are the same. On the programme , the shop shown looked much the same as the London Oxford Street branch - but was completely fake. To blow the mind even further, it seems that in one of these Chinese copy stores, the employees themselves even believe they are working for Apple - when, in fact, they most certainly do not.
Fake Laptop Chargers
Counterfeit laptop chargers are a huge problem in the online world. Many people turn to the internet when they need a new charger - but hundreds and thousands of fake laptop chargers are circulating online all the time. In fact, Birmingham Trading Standards seized a whopping 28,000 counterfeit chargers from just one Ebay seller. The chargers look legit - telltale signs can be noted from the quality of the packaging. The retailer's details should be apparent, as should the importer's details. Poor grammar is another giveaway. Badly translated English is a good clue that the product is a fake.
Fake Britain highlighted the case of one unfortunate purchaser who fell foul to the counterfeit laptop charger criminals. As he plugged the charger (ordered online) into the wall, it exploded whilst he was holding it. The explosion was so big that he temporarily lost both his sight and his hearing and thought he was dying - which was actually a real possibility because he was holding the body of the charger close to his chest, near his heart, and the wires had burned through exposing live wires. Bad shocks can cause permanent damage to the heart, so he was very lucky to escape relatively unscathed. There is no doubt that purchasing cheap laptop chargers online can be very dangerous if you don't know where the product is really coming from.
Professional chef's knives are very expensive, so it is little wonder that consumers are often keen to search out an online bargain. These days, it is not only chefs that want to buy top of the range knives - they have found their way into many ordinary homes. When a set of high quality chef's knives can cost upwards of £1000, making a purchase is, for many, not a quick decision. Shopping around online, hoping to knock some money of the steep price, is something that will appeal to a lot of people. However, looking for a bargain may prove to be a false economy.
Counterfeit knives sold online may, at first glance, appear to be the 'real thing'. Particularly when faced with nothing but internet photographs, it is impossible to tell the difference. But fake knives online can bring the counterfeit crooks a small fortune. Selling cheap, inferior products at even half the price means that they are raking it in.
Global is a company specialising in top quality products. An authentic set of nine knives and a sharpener will cost at least £1000 on the high street. However, Fake Britain exposed the reality that inferior and illegal copies are being advertised online for around half the cost - still not cheap, but seemingly a bargain. The programme highlighted the experience of a customer who purchased what he thought was a set of nine Global knives for £470. The purchase was made online, through an independent seller who claimed to be a chef. Upon arrival, the knives initially seemed legit. However, on first use they bent when cutting a tomato. More careful analysis found the knives to be poor quality, black spots on the knife handles to be painted on and not original and the packaging to be inferior. When the customer contacted the seller he tried to get out of it by claiming that the knives were an original Global product and that no refunds were given. When the customer threatened to send the knives to Global themselves for analysis, he did refund the money as long as the knives were sent back.
As with many products, there is more to the sale of counterfeit knives than losing several hundred pounds. Good quality products cost more because they are just that - good quality. Fake products may look similar, but it ends there. Fake knives are blunter and prone to sliding when used. Thus, they are not as safe.
Fake Fitness and Exercise Equipment
It seems that almost every brand name is in danger of being copied and illegally distributed - Slendertone muscle toners and body trainers are no different. As the name suggests, these products tone the muscles in the body - this works by way of stimulating the muscles using electrical signals that are sent between gel pads. Strong muscle contractions are encouraged, which tone the body. All manufactured electrical equipment must comply with strict regulations to prevent potential danger to the consumer - but what if you are not purchasing exactly what you think you are?
Fake Britain highlighted one case of counterfeit Slendertone products sold online - but it is only one of many more. As typically happens, the customer was searching for the best online price, for a Slendertone muscle toner as a gift for his partner. It arrived, appeared to be just what he was expecting, and he gave it to her. Alarm bells, however, were already ringing in the distance - the product took a ridiculous three weeks to arrive and was plastered with a Chinese postal label. But when the muscle toner did eventually turn up, he put those thoughts aside.
From first use, the recipient of the toner experienced a painful, stabbing sensation that was extremely unpleasant. However, the fact that it was a counterfeit product, as opposed to the real thing, did not hit home until the customer attempted to register the product with Slendertone themselves. The serial number was fake. What's more, the illegal product was potentially very dangerous - without the necessary quality and safety controls, the consumer is left open to the very real possibility that the electrical current could come into contact with bare skin. Fake toners can cause muscle injury and skin damage and untested electrical equipment can be particularly dangerous - at least one fake item burned through at the socket. Counterfeits are often very hard to distinguish at first glance, but the quality of manufacturing is greatly reduced. True Slendertone products do not cause pain or discomfort.
Fake Child Car Seats
Perhaps one of the most disturbing counterfeit products exposed by Fake Britain was child car seats. Seats sold by reputable companies, both on the high street and online, are made to strict safety regulations. The safety of the infant is paramount. Most people would never knowingly purchase a cheap copy of a respected brand in which to place their child. However, some people may be unwittingly doing just that.
Counterfeit Graco car seats were exposed by the programme, yet any brand of car seat is at risk of being copied and sold online (or elsewhere). Cheap deals that are not sold through a legitimate business may not be authentic. But it is important not to purchase a cheap car seat unless it is on sale through a responsible store website. As shown on TV, the damage could potentially be catastrophic - an experiment with a dummy baby and the fake Graco seat showed that, in the event of a crash, the 'child' would have suffered massive internal damage. Crooks that produce counterfeit products are only really concerned with the appearance of the finished item - the quality is always inferior and safety regulations may not be adhered to at all.
And the Rest...
Of course, there are many more fake products sold online - this article only strives to acknowledge the care we should take when making purchases we assume to be authentic. If a product seems to be an unbelievable bargain, then there is a chance that it might be all too good to be true. Of course, legitimate bargains can be found - but check the site you purchase from thoroughly and ensure you can see proper contact details that appear trustworthy (not a remote address on the other side of the world). Remember that independent sellers on sites like Ebay and Gumtree could, quite literally, be anyone - and that, whilst I have focussed on the online world, counterfeit products also turn up in the hands of crooks on the street, car boot sales and dodgy market stalls. Be aware!