When I was in my early twenties, I went shopping in Chinatown for a “Coach” purse — one with the signature C-pattern that was all the rage seemingly everywhere I went. A friend and I were led from the street down a flight of stairs into an unmarked room with copies of designer bags everywhere we looked: Gucci, Chanel, and of course, Coach. And while the lining of some of the purses was a little shoddy, for $30, we could purchase an almost perfect replica of the real thing… even down to the authenticity tag. While I didn’t end up buying anything that day, little did I know that years later, I again would be perusing counterfeit goods. But this time, I had no idea the products I was looking at were fakes. And you may not either.
Unsafe car seats, toys and more
There are thousands of fake children’s products products lurking on Amazon and other e-commerce retailers — including toys, medicine, even a popular stroller and car seat — that, according to investigations by The Wall Street Journal and CNN, are copycats, mislabeled, unsafe or outright banned by the government. While many of us assume the items we’re buying for our kids on online marketplaces pose no harm, some third-party retailers, who account for about 60% of Amazon’s sales, are peddling goods deceptively and without regard to federal standards.
One of the most jarring and dangerous recent examples was a posting on Amazon for a copycat masquerading as a Doona stroller and car seat travel system. While the Doona product met all federal safety requirements, the counterfeit version broke into pieces in a 30 mph crash test that CNN commissioned. While the posting has since been removed, the results in a real crash involving a child could have been catastrophic.
In another case, a child ingested more than a dozen magnets, causing injuries to his colon and intestines, after playing with a copycat magnetic toy construction set sold online that didn’t adhere to safety standards.
The Journal’s investigation found 4,152 items on Amazon that have been “declared unsafe by federal agencies, are deceptively labeled or are banned by federal regulators—items that big-box retailers’ policies would bar from their shelves.” The company has removed many of these products from the site, but the problem is persistent and growing.
A real and unknown threat
The Toy Association recently sounded the alarm on fake children’s products in a white paper, “The Real Threat of Fake Toys.” The group identified three causes to the upsurge of infringing and unregulated products: “insufficient vetting by marketplaces of sellers and products sold online; a burden of enforcement that is disproportionately placed on the IP rights holders (the brand owners); and consumers who are largely unaware of the scope of the problem.”
But while the public may be largely unaware of it, the Department of Homeland Security recognizes a growing danger on e-commerce platforms, saying in a January report, “Counterfeiting is no longer confined to street-corners and flea markets. The problem has intensified to staggering levels.”
To address this, DHS has proposed nearly a dozen fixes, including a consumer awareness campaign, and fines and other penalties for third-party marketplaces.
For its part, Amazon has poured considerable resources into trying to get fakes off its site, and offers several programs to companies to help protect their products.
How to avoid fakes
But in the face of what DHS calls a “significant risk” to American consumers of purchasing counterfeit or pirated goods, what can we do as consumers? And as parents, how do we protect ourselves from fake children’s products?
First, we should act with increased vigilance when shopping on an e-commerce site. That means verifying who the seller is in the listing, and reading the product description and reviews closely for any red flags. If a product’s price seems too low, that also might indicate a fake. Next, when the package arrives, read the labels and packaging carefully. Familiarize yourself with the brand’s logo and overall appearance to help identify a counterfeit good. And remember, if you’re nervous about buying a specific product for your kids, you always can make the purchase instead from the seller directly or a trusted retailer.
For more information on what the government is doing to combat counterfeit and pirated products, read the report here.
More on baby and registry products here.