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Top 10 Consumer Tips
If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. If you are uncomfortable with the circumstances of your purchase—such as price, website, lack of a sales receipt or warranty information, or, most importantly, a vendor’s unwillingness to answer simple questions about the source of the products for sale—use your common sense and go elsewhere.
For online shopping, 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?
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. 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.
Businesses trading in counterfeit goods often do not report their sales to financial authorities—a difference you may notice in the price you ultimately pay, particularly in states that collect sales taxes. If a purchase price does not appear to reflect the required sales tax or other fees, you should inquire further about the price and the source of that company’s products before buying.
Reputable and reliable resellers have comprehensive inspection and authentication procedures and technicians to inspect the equipment they sell. You may wish to purchase used or discounted products from a reseller, but 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. Try searching for the name of the seller and reading other customers’ reviews.
Reports suggest that 96% of online pharmacies do not meet safety or legal standards, so it is especially important that you remain vigilant when buying your medicines 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 www.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, and have a way for you to talk to a person if you have problems. See the FDA for more information here, and be sure to follow the FDA’s recommendations for reporting illegal online pharmacies.
When shopping on international websites, look for trusted vendors that use identifiable privacy and security safeguards and have legitimate addresses. While many international businesses offer unique products that are unavailable or hard to find at home, in certain foreign markets counterfeit and pirated products are even more prevalent than in the United States.
Illicit websites often install malware that can steal your credit card information and other information stored on your computer. If a movie is still in theaters (or has not even premiered in theaters yet), beware of online streaming or download sites that may be offering camcorded or illegal copies that do not properly reward the movies’ creators. Similarly, beware of audio recordings that offer impossible compilations.
Look for missing or expired “use by” dates, broken or missing safety seals, missing warranty information, or otherwise unusual packaging. There is no foolproof way to know the difference between a bargain and a fake, but labels and packaging can be revealing indicators.
Luxury goods may have incorrect names or badly attached labels—some genuine manufacturers offer specific information for consumers to use to spot fakes. For larger purchases, such as mechanical or electronic equipment, seek reputable sellers and check serial numbers with manufacturer databases. If you purchase medicine from a new vendor and it does not match the size, shape, color, taste, and side effects of your usual product, contact your pharmacist or the manufacturer to determine if it came from a legitimate source.
You can also verify authenticity by comparing the manufacturer’s contact information with another product’s packaging, as addresses and phone numbers provided with counterfeit goods could be misleading.
Report unsafe products to the Consumer Product Safety Commission by calling 800-638-2772 or by visiting their website, www.cpsc.gov/cgibin/incident.aspx.
Many counterfeit and pirated goods are the product of complex illegal manufacturing and distributing operations. If you suspect an intellectual property crime, report it to the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center at http://www.ice.gov/iprcenter/ or to local law enforcement.
Consumers can play an important role in keeping the market free of fakes by acting as a source of investigatory clues for U.S. brand owners. If you receive spam that directs you to a suspicious website, report the information to the brand owner and to the authorities. If you suspect you’ve purchased a counterfeit or pirated product, notify the brand owner and contact the place of purchase for an exchange or reimbursement.
Teach your kids about counterfeits. Educate your children about the dangers of fake products regarding their safety and the livelihood of the businesses that make the products they enjoy. Teach children to shop with legal and safe retailers both in local stores and online, and ask children to check with a parent before giving out personal or family information online. For more resources on educating children, visit www.uspto.gov/go/kids.
Warn friends and family of illegitimate product sources. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to spread information about dangerous and defective products and those who sell them. By talking about this problem, you may also learn where your friends and family have found reliable, safe, affordable, and legitimate alternatives.