Shoppers, Beware Christmas Counterfeits

Christmas shoppers in a hurry to check everyone off of their gift lists may wish to take a moment to pause. Almost a quarter of online shoppers unknowingly purchased a counterfeit brand online, according to a study published by Trademarks and Brands Online.

The vast majority of those consumers said they would not have bought the counterfeit product if they were aware it was a fake. But the chances of making a mistake go up during Christmas when people tend to buy a lot on a short deadline. As online shopping increases generally -- and specifically ahead of the holiday season -- so does the likelihood of buying a fake.

Dangerous Imitations?

The imitations are not just disappointing for failing to be the genuine article but also pose some health and safety dangers. While it may not be harmful to anything but your ego if you can't buy a genuine Chanel bag or collect silken scarves from Hermes, imitation brand cosmetics can cause serious skin problems, allergies, and severe rashes. Imitation electronics can also present fire hazards.

The risk of purchasing dangerous imitations goes up a great deal when shopping online. Respondents to the Trademarks and Brands Online survey -- conducted with participants from the UK, France, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the US -- asked shoppers how they ensured that they were on secure sites. About one quarter of respondents said they did not know how to validate the legitimacy of websites they were using.

What to Do

In order to avoid getting caught in the counterfeit trap, you only need to be careful. If you are buying things online, look very carefully at what you are clicking on when you surf the web. Notice when you are surfing away from the store or site you sought to see and do not make purchases from websites that seem in any way shady.

What is shady? To some extent, incredible bargains are shady. Chances are good that if something is a steal, it may not be real. Be extremely carefully about the payment process when you are shopping online -- sites that direct you externally for a purchase warrant extra scrutiny. Finally, if you want to guarantee you are getting the real thing, go directly to the source and buy goods from the manufacturer and their suggested retailers.

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