One big benefit of shopping online is the ability to do comparison shopping. You don't have to drive all over town and walk into a bunch of stores to figure out who has the best prices for what you want.
While comparison shopping might work out just fine when you're looking at established online sellers and big retailers, it can fall apart pretty quickly when you're just looking for the best price. Counterfeit goods litter the web.
You might pay less, but you're not going to get the real item or anything remotely close in quality. Think you're going to get a refund after your disappointment? Good luck with that. If you didn't know it before you made your purchase, it's more than likely you'll find out later that the site you bought from is in China and far beyond the purview of your attorney general's office or the Better Business Bureau. In other words, you lose.
"Heaped on top of the potential disappointment of getting a fake, many too-good-to-be-true offers are just that," said Frederick Felman, chief marketing officer of the brand protection firm MarkMonitor. "Consumers often receive shoddy product, boxes full of rocks or even no shipment of any goods at all from scammers who prey on deal-seekers. And, sometimes the risk is even more insidious. We've heard tale of exploding batteries and fires started from faulty chargers. For some, that's just the beginning of the angst -- some corrupt sellers use financial data to run further transactions on credit cards or even sell your credentials to other criminals."
Crooks can be incredibly convincing when it comes to getting consumers interested in buying their phony goods. And they know what people want and jump in on items where price is an obstacle.
To avoid getting ripped off online with counterfeit products, consider this advice from MarkMonitor:
Be careful what you search for. Counterfeiters use seasonal keywords like "back-to-school" to their advantage. They also add terms like "cheap" or "discount" in front of a product name or category.
Check out the return policy. Most legitimate sites will fully disclose their return policy. If one isn't listed, it is most likely a counterfeit site.
Be wary of highly-discounted goods. As the saying goes, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Counterfeiters have become more sophisticated in their pricing techniques but still reel in unsuspecting consumers with the promise of the deal of a lifetime.
What is the reputation? Is the site or seller mentioned on any of the scam warning sites? Do a search for the vendor's name and "scam" and see what comes up.
Here are seven categories of goods that are frequently counterfeited:
7 'Bargains' That Could Be Fakes
Great Deals Gone Bad: The 7 Bargains Most Likely to Be Fakes
You want a pair of UGG Australia boots for less than they're getting at Nordstrom (JWN)? How about the latest Nike (NKE) basketball shoe for less than half price? Sure, you can find them for a fraction of the price they're selling for at major U.S. retailers. And they'll be made of lousy materials and not look anything like the picture on the website.
Whether it's North Face jackets or wedding dresses, there are many fakes to go around. There are plenty of tales of woe from brides and bridal parties who decided they didn't want to pay $1,000 or more for a dress and opted for one that looked the same online and was selling for less than half the price. The upset brides can tell you about getting their special dress delivered shoved into an envelope made from a material that was nothing like what it was supposed to be and with sewing work that was amateur. Think you're going to get the latest Herve Leger dress on the cheap? Not the real deal. But there are plenty of sites that will tell you otherwise.
Not ready to drop $600 on a new iPhone 6? How about $150? If that's more your speed, you can safely assume that you're not getting the real deal. That goes for any electronics item that is the latest and greatest. If it it's new and it's in demand, it's not going to be available at a fraction of the retail price.
This is a traditional hotbed for counterfeits. If you want a Gucci (GUCG) handbag and think $3,000 is a bit over your budget, don't expect that same bag to be available to you even at $500. For every expensive real purse, there are a whole lot more cheaper fakes, even if they're not that cheap.
More than any other category of counterfeiting, pharmaceuticals is one to steer clear of. You might not want to pay the pharmacy prices for Viagra or Lipitor, but cheap online deals aren't the way to go. You don't know what you're getting, regardless of the claims on the sites. Risking taking badly made medicines at the wrong dosage is not a chance you ought to take.
It's easy to make a fragrance or makeup container look like the real deal. It's another story entirely to make it smell the same and use the same quality of ingredients. The big risk here is not only getting something that smells like men's aftershave instead of a delicate perfume, but that the poor-quality ingredients could cause an allergic reaction. NSF International tested counterfeit cosmetics early this year and found high lead levels.
Rolexes that weren't made by Rolex and sold for $20 instead of, say, $20,000 were a staple of many street-corner vendors in big cities. There are a whole lot of street corners online. In addition to Rolex, there will be plenty of other high-end brands that make premium items at premium prices. Think Tiffany jewelry as another example. You're not going to find that brand in the bargain bin or even on sale. So, if you see a deep discount on such brands, question the authenticity.