How to Avoid Scams This Holiday Season

Who isn’t excited for the official kickoff of the holiday season? Beginning this weekend, homes will be filled with decorations and we will spend quality time with those we love most.

The start of the holidays also means shoppers across the country will be enthusiastically participating in the biggest shopping days of the year: Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. Whether shoppers are looking for electronics, experiences, clothing, or toys, they’ll be searching for the best deals. And while it’s tough to turn away from low prices, shoppers must remain vigilant.

Whatever you’re shopping for, you can almost guarantee there is a counterfeit version on the market.

Unfortunately, counterfeit products can pose a serious threat to consumer health and safety. These products are created and distributed without proper regulation and lack quality assurance. That means counterfeit toys can be built with defective parts that can break off and cause choking hazards for our young. Imitation electronics, like chargers and accessories, made with cheap components can catch on fire and even explode. Counterfeit cosmetics often contain chemicals that cause allergic reactions or long-term harm to skin, hair, and eyes.

And these are just a few examples. Counterfeits are no longer limited to designer bags and shoes, especially as the convenience of online shopping becomes more popular. Criminals that make and sell fake products are becoming more sophisticated and preying on unsuspecting consumers shopping at online retailers.

This year more than 164 million people plan to shop over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend, according to the National Retail Federation. And many businesses and consumers are counting on these profits and sales. Our government and law enforcement officials are already working tirelessly to ensure these fake items are contained, but it is critical shoppers do their part.

Check out these ten tips to guarantee you’re shopping safely this holiday season:

  1. Trust your instincts. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
  2. Insist on secure transactions. 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. This helps you know that you are working with a trustworthy retailer.
  3. Watch for missing sales tax charges. 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.
  4. Seek quality assurance in the secondary market. Reputable and reliable resellers have comprehensive inspection and authentication procedures and technicians to inspect the equipment they sell.
  5. Buy medicines only from licensed pharmacy websites. Reports suggest that 96 percent of online pharmacies do not meet safety or legal standards. Trustworthy websites should be licensed by the relevant state board of pharmacy, should provide a licensed pharmacist to answer questions about your purchase, and should always require a prescription for prescription medicines.
  6. Be vigilant when buying abroad. When shopping on international websites, look for trusted vendors that use identifiable privacy and security safeguards and have legitimate addresses.
  7. Guard your personal information. Illicit websites often install malware that can steal your credit card information and other information stored on your computer. Don’t install add-ons or apps if you don’t know their purpose and don’t click on suspicious pop-up ads.
  8. Scrutinize labels, packaging, and contents. Look for missing or expired “use by” dates, broken or missing safety seals, missing warranty information, or otherwise unusual packaging.
  9. Report fake products. Report unsafe products to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  Consumers can play an important role in keeping the market free of fakes.
  10. Spread the word. Share these tips! Teach your family, friends, and coworkers about counterfeits.


Diya Li is senior manager of communications at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Innovation Policy Center. 

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