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Counterfeiting: It’s not pretty.

Counterfeiting: It’s not pretty.

By Kasie Gorosh

Beauty products for sale online seem harmless. But, with the click of a mouse, consumers are often getting much more than they bargained for. In fact, after rat droppings, human urine and arsenic were recently found in seized counterfeit goods, the City of London Police warned consumers about the many risks associated with purchasing fake beauty products. Not too pretty.

Makeup, like any small item, is easily shipped directly to the consumer, and criminals use this to their advantage to skirt enforcement efforts. This criminal activity allows the materials in the cosmetics to enter the supply chain more easily, further putting consumers at risk.

What starts as an innocent purchase online can quickly lead to severe health problems, and it’s not just with cosmetics, either. In many instances, consumers are purchasing what they think is medicine, but what is in reality counterfeit drugs containing deadly ingredients such as paint thinner, tar, antifreeze and road paint. At any one time there are approximately 35,000-50,000 active online drug sellers, 97% of which do not comply with U.S. laws, according to LegitScript. Fake pharmacy operations are big business, generating sales in the millions each month, and they put patients at risk.

Fake retailers prey on those looking for a convenient way to purchase products. Criminal enterprises, who sell to unsuspecting consumers online, have developed a niche sales process for selling medications, beauty products, consumer electronics, and apparel.

Don’t fall prey to these online criminals. Trust these tips to stay safe online to protect yourself and your family.

1) Trust your instincts. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. When shopping online, beware of sites that have poor quality photos, spelling mistakes, lack terms and conditions of sale, force you to use unsecure mail, and are not secure. Try calling the sites and listening to the automated response systems—do they sound legitimate? Does the site offer full contact information?

2) Be particularly careful purchasing medicine online. Legitimate online pharmacy websites should be located in the United States and licensed by the state board of pharmacy where the website is operating (check nabp.net for a list of state boards of pharmacy), have a licensed pharmacist to answer your questions, require a prescription from your doctor or other health care professional who is licensed in the United States to write prescriptions for medicine.

3) Insist on secure transactions. Operations dealing in counterfeit products are likely to disregard the need to transmit and store customer data in a secure fashion. Avoid making a purchase if you are uncomfortable with the security of the transaction. When doing business online, make sure your payments are submitted via websites beginning with https:// (the “s” stands for secure) and look for a lock symbol at the bottom of your browser.

4) Seek quality assurance in the secondary market. You may wish to purchase used or discounted products from a reseller. However, the differences between reasonable packaging and content irregularities and counterfeits may be too subtle to detect. Avoid counterfeits in the secondary market by asking for details about your supplier’s quality assurance processes. Reputable and reliable resellers have comprehensive inspection and authentication procedures and technicians to inspect the equipment they sell. Try searching for the name of the seller and reading other customers’ reviews.

5) Scrutinize labels, packaging, and contents. There is no foolproof way to know the difference between a bargain and a fake, but labels and packaging can be revealing indicators. Look for missing or expired “use by” dates, broken or missing safety seals, missing warranty information, or otherwise unusual packaging. Counterfeit music CDs tend to have shoddy inserts and shoddy shrink-wrap, lack bar codes, hail from unknown record labels. Counterfeit DVDs can often have poor sound and video quality.