What to Do If You're the Victim of a Counterfeit Product Scam
Reviewed by Carina Jenkins, J.D.
You’ve been excited about the latest gadget or accessory for months, and you finally had the opportunity to snag a great deal on one — only to discover that it's a fake when it shows up on your doorstep.
Learn what to do if you become the victim of a counterfeit product scam.
The Department of Homeland Security has identified counterfeit product scams as an emerging public health and safety risk. Consumers are often led to believe they’re purchasing a real product, only to receive knockoff products made from lower-quality materials. In some cases, the results can be even more dire. Customers expect products to work as advertised, but counterfeit products can fail at critical moments and lead to serious injuries.
Fake products can include counterfeit clothing, safety equipment, lithium-ion batteries, household goods, makeup, prescription medications and automotive parts. There’s a clear difference between purchasing a generic version of a product and a counterfeit. Fake product scams present the products as a brand name, and customers genuinely believe they’re buying a legitimate product.
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You may be shocked to discover you’ve been sold a scam product and wonder whether you can do anything about it. Follow these tips if you accidentally purchased a fake product.
It’s important to get the ball rolling as soon as you realize you've received a scam product. Contact the company you ordered the product from, and let them know you didn’t receive what you paid for. Amazon has a process for reporting unscrupulous sellers, for example. Taking action right away can protect others from the same counterfeit product.
Product scams negatively affect brands by harming their reputations. They don’t want consumers buying knockoffs and making judgments about their company based on fake products. It’s a good idea to let the brand know about the counterfeit because they may take actions of their own to protect consumers.
If you used a credit card to purchase the item, you may be able to dispute the charge before you’re even required to pay your bill. Your credit card issuer’s fraud department may conduct an investigation on the grounds that you didn’t receive the product you paid for. However, since you approved the transaction, whether you'll receive a refund depends on the credit card company’s policy.
Banks have very similar online fraud prevention and reporting policies. You can contact your bank and dispute the transaction. However, they may not be able to give you your money back. Check with your bank to see whether their policies include reimbursement for fraudulent products.
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Contacting the retailer may be the most effective solution if you’re looking for a refund. Companies such as Amazon and eBay don’t want to ruin their reputation, so they often issue refunds if someone reports a counterfeit item. You may need to provide proof that the item is fake and return it through the mail to receive your refund.
Both the Federal Trade Commission and Internet Crime Complaint Center work around the clock to track counterfeiters. The Attorney General in your state may also be able to help. Regardless of whether you’re able to get a refund, reporting what happened can help these agencies track down criminals and reduce the number of fake products reaching consumers in the United States.
With so many cybercriminals trying to get your personal information or money, it may seem difficult to stay one step ahead. When you’re researching a product, don’t just check product reviews. See what people have to say about the seller to determine whether it’s a reputable seller or one to be avoided.
You should also check to see if there is a fraud alert posted about the specific product you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a new laptop, for example, check to see if there are any fakes circulating that match the brand you’re interested in. If you do get fooled, remember that there may be options for recovering your money.
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