Christmas shoppers are being warned about the dangers of buying from online fraudsters looking to sell fake goods this year.
Trading standards experts from Lancashire County Council are sending out the message that people buying cheap goods online could put themselves and their families at risk.
Black Friday is on Friday 26 November and Cyber Monday is on Monday 29 November, marking the beginning of the pre-Christmas sales.
Disruption to the supply chain caused by shipping problems is likely to result in shortages of certain items, and a related rise in prices of in-demand items such as must-have toys.
Counterfeiters are exploiting the situation, readying themselves to supply fake products, at discounted prices online. The usual scams will also be doing the rounds.
County Councillor Peter Buckley, cabinet member for community services, said: “We all like a bargain and It’s understandable that people want to save money this Christmas, but unfortunately, it’s not only shoppers and retailers who look to make the most of these huge, online sales days.
“People selling counterfeit goods are expected to be active this year, taking advantage of the current difficulties in the supply chain and high prices to offer people sales that are too good to be true.
“Counterfeit goods start to flood the market on the run up to Christmas, even more so when the top branded goods become more desirable, so consumers need to be extra careful when buying online this year.
“These con artists are often part of organised crime networks. Not only will they supply sub-standard and potentially faulty and dangerous products, but they will also steal your personal details. This could lead to money being taken from your account or identity theft.”
Counterfeit sellers use sophisticated-looking websites, e-commerce platforms, auction sites and social media to push offers of cut-price items that could endanger families more than ever before.
The British Toy and Hobby Association recently published a survey, which found that 88% of toys bought from third-party online marketplace sellers were illegal for sale in the UK and that 48% were clearly unsafe for children.
Julie Waddington, Lancashire County Council’s Principal Trading Standards officer, said: “Counterfeit toys are the biggest concern. These dangerous and non-compliant products can result in injuries including choking, strangulation, damage to sight or hearing, burns, chemical poisoning, and electric shocks.
“Check who you’re buying from and make sure the company and the website is legitimate. Websites selling counterfeits often don’t look as professional, containing spelling errors and poor-quality images.
“If you’re in any doubt, do a quick search as you should be able to find an address for the company. Look for contact details in case there should be a problem. Remember, if you pay by credit card for goods costing over £100 and things go wrong you should have rights against the credit card provider as well as the supplier.
“The website’s online payment section should also have an address that begins with HTTPS and displays a padlock or key logo in the address line to indicate you’re using a secure payment facility.
“Another key piece of advice is to compare the price of the product against other retailers and the manufacturer’s website. Don’t get caught up in the sales fever and buy in haste – if the price looks too good to be true you must ask yourself whether it’s legitimate.
“Online scams can often involve high value electronic goods such as mobile phones or game consoles. In some cases, fake websites that look identical to official sites offer goods at much cheaper prices, payment is made but the shopper never receives the goods.”
Here are 10 top trading standards tips for scam-free Christmas shopping:
• Think about if the product is something you want and is it the bargain it might be described to be.
• Never disclose security details, such as your PIN or full password – it’s never okay to reveal these details.
• Do not assume an email request or caller is genuine – people aren’t always who they say they are.
• Do not be rushed – a genuine business or organisation won’t mind waiting to give you time to stop and think.
• Listen to your instincts – if something feels wrong then it is usually right to pause and question it.
• Stay in control – have the confidence to refuse unusual requests for information
• Make sure you check feedback on suppliers before you buy.
• Price is a good indicator – if the item is considerably cheaper than other sites, it is highly likely to be a counterfeit.
• Check that the site is secure, and that full name and address details are available
• Remember that if you buy from a company based abroad it is going to be very difficult if not impossible to resolve any problems that might arise with the goods.
For more tips on how to avoid being caught out, visit www.a-cg.org/consumer-advice
For consumer advice or to report a matter to Trading Standards, contact the Citizen’s Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133
To report fraud, you can contact www.actionfraud.police.uk