How to save yourself from buying fake products on the internet

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More and more things are moving online. You can do almost anything there. You can watch movies, take classes and, of course, shop. Online shopping gives consumers the opportunity to easily compare prices from several sellers from the comfort of their home. But when you get the product in the mail, it doesn't always turn out to be as expected.

According to the Global Brand Counterfeiting, global sales on counterfeit items will reach $1.8 trillion by the end of 2020. A study done in 2018 by the US Government Accountability Office determined that about 40% of a sample of frequently counterfeited goods - including shoes, makeup and travel mugs - bought on popular e-commerce websites were fake.

An increasing number of people are shopping online every year and more fake products are being sold to consumers every day. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau and the U.S. Government Office of Accountability, here is how to avoid buying these counterfeit goods when shopping online.

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Be wary of discounts

Look for price comparisons and know what the product is worth. If a third-party retailer is selling a product for well below its established price, that is a sign that the product could be fake. Even small discounts could be an indicator as a counterfeiter might charge only a little under the retail price to trick customers.

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Know when something is too good to be true

If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. But there are other warning signs to consider, like if a hard-to-find product is suddenly abundantly available from an online seller. 

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Check customer reviews

Scan through the customer reviews on a particular product or seller and notice whether buyers generally seem satisfied or dissatisfied. However, also remember that reviews, like products, can be fake, so use your best judgment and don't rely on this method alone.

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Check for authorized retailers

Companies often publish lists of authorized retailers of their products. If you are unsure whether the product comes from a legitimate distributor, ask the seller for proof.

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Ensure secure transactions

Avoid making an online purchase if you are uncomfortable with the security of your transaction. When shopping online, make sure that your payments are done through websites that start with "https://" and a lock symbol on your browser. 

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Know the seller

Make sure you know who the seller is. Look for their external information like their physical address and phone number so that if you have questions or concerns about your purchase, you know where to reach them. Just because the seller "looks legit" does not mean the product they are selling is legit. When a seller lists a product and it says "fulfilled by," it does not mean "sold by." This is a sign that a product could be fake and the seller is not a distributor of the product that you are looking for.

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Ask for pictures

If you are buying from second-hand websites such as eBay, Amazon or Etsy, you have the option to send a message to the seller and ask for pictures of the product. Feel free to even ask for specific angles. If they comply, it's a good sign. But if they send minimal pictures or do not send pictures at all, do not risk it. You can also do a reverse image search in a search engine to make sure those photos aren't pulled from somewhere else.

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Familiarize yourself with the product

Make sure before you go shopping online for a particular product that you're familiar with the appearance of the product and any specific details about the product. Also make sure to carefully read the description posted by the seller. It's better to be prepared before going shopping online so you can spot a fake before it's too late. 

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Be wary of buying abroad

Many businesses abroad offer products that are unavailable or hard to find at home. But, in some foreign markets, counterfeit items are more prevalent. So be careful when ordering products from outside the United States. The U.S. Department of State publishes alerts on counterfeits that are appearing in other countries. 

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Look for missing sales tax charges

Merchants who sell counterfeit goods usually do not share their sales with financial authorities. The total price you will be paying may be cheaper than it should be, but this isn't necessarily a good thing. If the price does not reflect the required sales tax in states that require it, you could be buying a fake product. Protecting yourself might mean heading to a brick-and-mortar store to shop, and if that's the case, here are a few secrets shopping malls don't want you to know. 

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