The Dangers Of Counterfeit Kids’ Products And How To Avoid Them
While most people think of a knock-off Louis Vuitton bag when they hear the word, ‘counterfeit,’ the reality is: no industry is spared and fake kids products are quickly becoming a very dangerous problem. From car seats to bamboo dinnerware to play kitchens, parents are unknowingly being duped when trying to shop thoughtfully for their families. In this article, we look at how third-party sites like Amazon and eBay are facilitating these sales and how the Shop Safe Act 2020, brand initiatives and customers are working to hold them liable.
We’ve all read about the hoverboards burning people’s houses down, but what about the car seat stroller that failed a crash test at 30 mph?
In 2019, CNN bought a “Doona Car Seat Stroller” on Amazon and brought it to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute as part of a months-long investigation into the sale of counterfeit brand kids’ products online. Of course, it wasn’t an authentic Doona Car Seat Stroller and in a 30 mph crash test, the car seat failed to meet the basic standards set by U.S. regulators and shattered into pieces on impact. To everyone’s horror, this car seat was marketed under the Doona brand name, featured brand photos and even used the brand’s description. When comparing it to a real Doona online, the only visible point of difference was the price.
The thing about counterfeits is that they’re not just lower-quality versions that essentially do the same thing as the authentic product. They’re unregulated, undependable and put you (and your children) at risk for injury, illness and identity theft. In order for someone to sell a stroller, play kitchen or baby carrier at half the price than that of the manufacturer or an approved seller, it is most likely that they have created a counterfeit version. This version is potentially made with low-grade or unregulated materials. This means metal, plastics, fabrics and paints could be contaminated with heavy metals, phthalates and bisphenols and more. It means designs that haven’t been third-party tested. It also means that the seller you’re purchasing from is not invested in your safety or satisfaction.
You’re probably wondering how on earth Amazon, eBay or Facebook could get away with something like this, but here’s the thing: unlike websites like The Tot or stores like Target, these so-called online marketplaces are technically just a platform and tool for third-party sellers. Thus, they’re not liable. While of course, the aforementioned companies are trying to crack down on the sale of counterfeit goods, there’s not a whole lot they can do because the sellers simply shut down and open up under a new name a few days later. Brands can either prevent the sale of their products on a website or educate their customers on what to look out for. For example, Nike recently pulled its products from Amazon and ended their wholesale relationship in an effort to stop being undercut by unauthorized sellers with knock-off versions, while brands like Ergobaby are listing their authorized dealers on their website. It’s become such a global trade issue, that even the Department of Homeland Security has pleaded with companies and congress to do more to fight the sale of fake goods.
Recently, a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled The Shop Safe Act of 2020. Designed to protect both customers and business owners, the new legislation would hold e-commerce companies like Amazon or eBay liable for counterfeit products sold on their platforms. If passed, there will be a series of steps that e-commerce platforms must take to prevent the sale of knockoffs by third-party sellers on their platforms.
“Consumer lives are at risk because of dangerous counterfeit products that are flooding the online marketplace,” Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) said in a statement. “Congress must create accountability to prevent these hazardous items from infiltrating the homes of millions of Americans.”
The scary thing about counterfeits is that they are a problem for every industry and fund the underbelly of the world. Worth over a trillion dollars a year, the sale of counterfeits contributes to the growth of human, drug and gun trafficking as well as terrorist organizations. Guilty of denying a tax-paying company the chance to provide jobs that increase the value of the economy, counterfeit manufacturers also don’t adhere to any laws that protect people from child labor, unfair wages and unsafe working conditions.
It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to buy vitamins, medications, furniture, clothing, jewelry, a computer, kitchenware or makeup, the chance of you purchasing a fake product is high. In 2018, the U.S. Government of Accountability Office found that two out of every five products purchased online were counterfeit.
Two out of five
This is particularly concerning when shopping for babies and kids because of their delicate respiratory systems, still-developing immune systems and sensitive skin. What’s worse is that they tend to put everything in their mouths! Due to how prevalent the sale of counterfeit goods has become, we reached out to our vendors to see how they’ve been affected.
“We use a third party vendor that monitors all online activity when it comes to Baby Shusher. They have shut down over a 1000 counterfeit Shusher postings this year. It is an ongoing battle, but we are winning everyday.” – Baby Shusher
“Over the years, various products have been copied within a millimeter or two of the original design. However, more troubling, is that the consumer won’t know the difference aside from the packaging. They won’t know that these new players are not informed, nor specialized in what constitutes a safe bamboo composite. Most suppliers are either inexperienced in manufacturing bamboo fiber ware, or they cut costs and increase productivity by shortening the crucial production process, that forms and stabilizes the composite. The result – many competitor’s products have tested as unstable, leaching toxic chemicals into food and beverages. It is brands like these that caused a backlash due to health concerns against bamboo fiber. EKOBO has made it their mission to be the antithesis of these brands, creating innovative, sustainable and safe products that parents can trust.” – EKOBO
How do you know if a product is fake?
With counterfeit sellers using actual brand photography, logos and descriptions, determining whether a product is fake or not is becoming increasingly difficult. Below are a few things to look out for:
When viewing the product online:
- Check if the seller is an authorized dealer listed on the company’s website.
- Check the company’s email address and location.
- Do the reviews look and sound real?
- Is the price sensible? (If it’s too good to be true, it most likely is!)
- Check pricing on the manufacturer’s or approved seller’s website.
- Are there spelling and grammatical errors?
- Do they advertise any certifications or safety standards?
- Be wary of secondhand items being sold as never used.
What to do if you think you’ve been sold a counterfeit product
- Compare the product to the authentic brand’s images. Are the logos the same? Do they have the same warning labels? Does it have any spelling mistakes? Touch, feel and inspect it.
- If you think you’ve been sold a counterfeit product, do not use it! Especially if it’s something your baby is traveling in or eating from. The risk of them ingesting a toxic ingredient like lead or BPA is high.
- Next, report the online seller to the platform you purchased from as well as STOPfakes.gov. Once you’ve done that, you can attempt to get a refund. When it comes to disposing of the counterfeit product, please don’t donate it because it could put someone else at risk. Either try to recycle it or dispose of it at a landfill.
Common counterfeits to watch out for:
While every product can be at risk, there are quite a few kids’ brands consistently targeted when it comes to counterfeits.
- Baby Shusher
- Babyzen YOYO
- Milton & Goose
In an effort to help protect people from purchasing counterfeits, we’ve added an authenticity stamp next to products that are commonly copy-catted so that you know that you’re buying the real thing when purchasing from The Tot.
- CNBC: A new bill could make e-commerce companies liable for counterfeits sold on their platforms
- Forbes: The Counterfeit Problem And How Retailers Can Fight Back in 2020
- INC: Beware: Dangerous Counterfeit Toys for Your Baby Are Being Sold on Amazon
- Investor’s Digest: Amazon Admits To Fraud Risk
- Securing Industry: Online shoppers risk identity theft when buying fakes
- The Motley Fool: Report: Amazon Suspending Auxiliary Shipping Business
- United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime: The Illicit Trafficking of Counterfeit Goods and Transnational Organized Crime
- US Customs and Border Protection: Fake Goods, Real Dangers
- Wall Street Journal: Amazon Has Ceded Control of Its Site. The Result: Thousands of Banned, Unsafe or Mislabeled Products
- Washington Post: Trump administration says it will take aim at online counterfeits, seek tougher enforcement