Keep Counterfeits Out of Your Cart: #ShopSafe This Back to School Season

If you’re a parent on the hunt for the best back-to-school gear, chances are you’re on the lookout for ways to save a few bucks. But you can also save yourself and your family from real dangers if you know how to keep counterfeit goods out of your online shopping cart.

Today, counterfeit and pirated goods represent up to 2.5% of global trade, or as much as $461 billion annually. Counterfeit trade is no longer limited to fake luxury handbags and watches; all kinds of consumer products are faked.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) data reveals that while counterfeit apparel and accessories are currently the top seized counterfeit products, counterfeit apparel and accessories only represent 20% of all seizures. Consumer electronics, like cell phone chargers and headphones, account for 16% of seizures. Medicines and personal care products, including vitamins, supplements, and cosmetics, follow close behind in the ranks. The newest scare: counterfeit backpacks containing excessive amounts of lead.

All of these products are created and distributed without proper regulation, meaning they bypass important quality and safety checks.

Counterfeit clothing may not meet fire retardant standards and imitation shoes show tears and reek of a pungent glue smell.

Fraudulent electronics dissolve into melted plastic or, worse, catch fire and explode. The Chartered Trading Standards Institute recently tested 400 counterfeit Apple chargers purchased online and 397 of them failed a basic safety test. In other words, 99% of the phone chargers tested were fire hazards.

Counterfeit medicines often contain no active ingredient, contain risky contaminants, or contain a different active ingredient altogether. Patients who believe they’re being treated aren’t being treated at all; in fact, illicit medicine can harm them or make their conditions much worse. Considering over 96% of online pharmacies are not compliant with U.S. federal and state laws, fake medicines are claiming new victims every day.

Counterfeit cosmetics and toiletry products have been found to contain dangerous chemicals and toxins like paint thinner, rat feces, bacteria, human urine, arsenic, and mercury. Often, these ingredients go unseen until it’s too late: 34% of consumers who bought counterfeit personal care products realized the products were counterfeit only after experiencing a bad physical reaction. Reported injuries ranged from skin irritations and rashes to temporary blindness and chemical burns.

Tests on recent seizures of counterfeit backpacks revealed lead counts ranging from 900 parts per million to 15,000 parts per million; the maximum lead content level under the Federal Hazardous Substance Act is just 100 parts per million. Because lead poisoning is often a gradual process and can be hard to detect, consumers may not recognize dangerous levels of lead exposure until serious symptoms arise.

These examples make a shared point: the cost of counterfeit can quickly become more than a few dollars. For your family, and children of all ages, the threat of counterfeit is even more severe.

To help parents navigate back-to-school shopping, we’ve compiled a list of helpful tips to shop safe.


Kasie Brill is the senior director of brand protection for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Intellectual Property Center. 

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