Imagine getting a great deal on a jersey featuring your favorite sports team or athlete, only to receive an item that feels cheap, has a logo that's slightly off or even misspells the athlete's name. Worse yet, imagine it wasn't a bargain at all — imagine that you paid top dollar for such an item.
Such counterfeit goods constitute a massive worldwide industry. According to a study done by the International Trademark Association, the estimated value of international and domestic trade in counterfeit and pirated goods was $1.13 trillion in 2013. The group believes by 2022 the total estimated value of counterfeit and pirated goods is projected to reach $1.9-$2.81 trillion. According to the ITA, more than $460 billion in counterfeit goods were sold in 2016 in the United States.
Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker's Annual Risk Report for 2017 showed online purchase scams as the top-ranked scam reported by U.S. and Canadian consumers. Clothing, cosmetics and electronics were among the most-reported items purchased in the Scam Tracker reports.
According to BBB's report, consumers reported a median loss of $100 to online purchase scams. That can represent a significant luxury purchase or even a special gift that falls well short of expectations.
In one recent counterfeit scam, special agents with the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations Unit in March 2018 arrested four people in San Juan, Puerto Rico, who were suspected of marketing and selling numerous purported dietary supplements for male enhancement or weight loss. The suspects allegedly sold counterfeit cosmetics as well.
Another major counterfeit scam saw the February 2018 seizure of more than 170,000 counterfeit sports- and entertainment-related items with an estimated worth of $15.69 million. The year-long joint investigation by ICE, Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection led to 65 arrests and 24 convictions.
In order to protect yourself from buying counterfeit goods, the Consumer Fraud Task Force offers the following tips:
Know your seller. Try to shop at a brand's own store or website or at an authorized dealer for the product. Ensure any website you're shopping is legitimate: Hover over links, make sure spelling and grammar is professional and double-check the URL and logo. It is easy for scammers to create a fake website imitating a brand in an attempt to lure consumers.
Avoid deals that are too good to be true. If you see an ad for something at an alarmingly low price, be careful. Large discounts could signal a counterfeit item. Don't click on ads you see online or follow links in unsolicited emails.
Beware of the online marketplace. When you purchase goods from online marketplaces, you don't have the opportunity to inspect the item before buying it. This increases the odds of it being counterfeit. If possible, inspect the item in person, and take it to an expert if it's a big-ticket item like art or jewelry.
Make sure it is licensed. When buying sports merchandise, find authentic licensed goods from official retailers and resellers on the official website of your favorite team or league. Authentic apparel will always have the correct fonts, colors and spelling, attached tags will usually have hologram stickers, and there won't be any loose threads or other signs of poor quality.
Report it. If you believe you have purchased counterfeit goods, do not resell the item. You are legally entitled to a refund or legitimate version, no matter what the seller's return policy is. Also file complaints with BBB, the state attorney general, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. If you believe you have found counterfeit merchandise online, report it to the FBI Internet Fraud Complaint Center.
Michelle Gleba is the Mid-Missouri regional director for Better Business Bureau.