Recently I had the misfortune to purchase counterfeit goods online. Owning counterfeit goods in Australia is illegal, let alone selling them. I found it very shocking – I thought I had been really careful, but once you click the buy button it’s too late to do anything about it. And when you realise you could be in big trouble it’s enough to send you to bed never to venture out again.
There are a number of reasons why you should be concerned about receiving counterfeit goods, even leaving aside the morality and legality of unlicensed reproductions. If nothing else, because you can’t be entirely confident about the safety of the item as it has come from an unregulated producer. You might find out the hard way that your:
- clothes, shoes or handbags are made from or with highly flammable or toxic materials
- electronic goods are faulty and burn your house down
- drugs do not contain active ingredients but do include rat faeces (Bam! double whammy)
- sporting goods are not fit for purpose and injure you or the people you are playing with
- toys are badly made with substandard fixings or lead paint…
As I say, I thought I had been very careful. I had an idea of what I wanted, so like any normal person I googled suppliers and proceeded to review the sites that came up in the results. I was looking for:
- a professional site – correct branding information, a web address that matched the site content, a returns policy, current Australian copyrighting, functioning links and prices in Australian dollars. (You can insert the name of the country you live in here).
- the correct use of the English language – spelling, grammar, punctuation. (or your local language)
- “reasonable” retail prices, and by reasonable I mean not suspiciously cheap. In this instance, the prices were in keeping with in-store prices last time I bought this brand, and the sale prices just a little discounted on current in-store prices. I thought they were probably inflating their retail prices a little to make their prices look more attractive.
These things are all important, but as you can guess there are more things you need to look for:
- it more or less goes without saying, but it’s probably worth reminding you to look for the SSL Secure Server padlock – it used to be on the bottom left of your page, but now it’s now in the address bar. Some sites (like mine) also start https:// instead of just http.
- a street address. That actually exists in this plane of reality. You can check google maps just to be sure. And I think if I try a new online supplier I’ll be looking for phone numbers as well.
- “Verified by” logos, e.g. Verified by Visa, MasterCard SecureCode, Norton Secured. The pictures are easy to copy, but when you click on them they should come up with details that match the site you are visiting e.g. its name. These organisations charge for verification status so if it looks genuine there’s a reasonable chance that your purchase will be safe and result in genuine articles.
- when you go through the checkout, click on the SSL certificate to ensure that the web and street addresses and certification are correct. And that the certification is valid.
- do a quick search to see if anyone has reviewed the site as suspicious, particularly if there are a lot of negative reviews.
Post order, there were a number of communication red flags, so that by the time the goods arrived I knew they would not be legitimate:
- I received a second payment confirmation in $US from another website with a name that suggested it was an independent payment processing company. It confirmed my payment to a third, seemingly unrelated organisation. The order details were correct, and the exchange conversion about right.
- My order had not been dispatched within their five-day window, and when I emailed them about the delay they said they had posted them yesterday. Followed by dispatch confirmation and then tracking information from China. And then dispatch and tracking information from the second company.
- When my order arrived I emailed the retailer (per their return policy) telling them the goods did not fit and asked where to send them for a refund. They replied that they could not do smaller (which the legitimate company can) and did not provide information about where to return.
- I checked the two other sites to find one a shop and the other blocked. And I repeated my original search to find that the site had been removed from the results due to a Digital Millennium Copyright Act infringement complaint.
So, what should you do when you find that you have bought counterfeit goods online?
- Contact the retailer to see if they can remedy the situation – they may not be aware that the goods are counterfeit.
- If you do not receive a reasonable level of helpfulness from the retailer, cancel your credit card. It is possible that the site has either the primary or a secondary function of credit card fraud and identity theft. Ask your bank whether they require or advise you to report the transaction to the police or some other authority in your jurisdiction.
- Ask your bank for a “Charge Back” form – most require this to be lodged within something like 45 days (you should check with your institution). At the very least, the goods you have ordered are not as advertised, i.e. the genuine article. Depending on your jurisdiction this may be reason enough, but you should check with your local consumer protection department. If you used PayPal or PayMate, they offer a similar service so contact them to initiate a claim.
- Be prepared to wait – it may take as long as three months for a claim to process, in the main because your bank is negotiating with the seller’s bank. Though if you don’t receive a confirmation of chargeback lodgement contact them to make sure they have it, and perhaps again in a few weeks time to see if any progress has been made.
But what about me and my counterfeit purchase I hear you ask? Thanks so much for your concern. Fortunately, my chargeback claim has been resolved, and I have my refund. And now I will go into town, visit an actual branded store and purchase the goods in person. I might be doing that for a while.
Edited 8/3/18: Hilariously my source web pages now divert to the dreaded 404 page not found, and in some cases, the sites themselves have shut down. The information contained in this post is still valid, but if in doubt, do some research of your own. Or buy locally in person.