Watchdog warns of an epidemic of counterfeit products sold online

CHICAGO — Consumer advocates warn there is an epidemic of fake products being sold online, and as many as one in four shoppers have purchased counterfeit goods at some point.

Research by the Better Business Bureau found eight in 10 Americans shop online, spending over half a trillion dollars a year and growing. Counterfeiters are attempting to tap into that market with increasingly sophisticated websites, offering what appear to be brand name watches, purses, cosmetics and more at bargain-basement prices.

In reality, the BBB says these fake retailers are offering counterfeit goods, with most of it coming from overseas, including a staggering 88 percent from China and Hong Kong. Customs seized $1.2 billion in counterfeit contraband in 2017.  The smuggling, distribution and sales of these fake products is controlled by organized crime, investigators say.

Signs a website or seller may be illegitimate include use of strange email addresses or misspellings on their website.

"If you can’t find anything online about this organization, there is a red flag,” said Steve Bernas of the BBB.

Angelique Morris knew something was wrong when a footwear portal sent her the wrong shoes and refused to take them back. Since she paid with her debit card, she did what the BBB says is the right thing, and immediately called her bank’s fraud division.

“I had a screenshot of the order, the order number, all the communications and all the emails,” Morris said.

Consumers can learn more or report counterfeit goods on the BBB's website.

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