Identifying Counterfeit Goods on Web Marketplaces

5 minute read

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’ve spent some time this week scouring the internet for the best Black Friday deals. Whether you’re looking for a TV, handbag or watch, you might think you’re encountering a great Black Friday deal on eBay, Amazon or any number of other online marketplaces, when in actuality these products are not what they seem and could actually be counterfeit goods. There have been a fair amount of articles suggesting that we live in “the era of convenience” and nothing proves this point more than the rise in online shopping. The ability to order almost anything from the comfort of your couch has made it so that 96% of Americans are online shopping as part of their normal routine.

Online marketplaces, from Amazon to Ebay to Etsy, have provided near endless availability of choice and price. But with the web marketplace market growing at such at rapid rate, this has lead to a wealth of opportunity for bad actors to sell counterfeits or sell a brand’s products without their permission online. These fake and unauthorized products often go undetected because of the sheer volume of content on these sites. So, how do we vet that the sites–and the products we’re buying on them– are truly what they say they are?

The growth of marketplaces

Since the very first Cyber Monday in 2005, online sales have increased year over year each post-Thanksgiving weekend. In 2017 alone, the number of people visiting stores on Black Friday declined by 4% while the number of online shoppers rose by 18%. Online stores of all kinds have seen increases in online shopping, from traditional brick-and-mortar stores like Walmart to web marketplace giants like Amazon.

This rise in online shopping has led to an expansion in web marketplaces beyond the Amazons of the world. Sites like Etsy offer the ability for small business owners, crafters and artists to sell custom or homemade goods directly to consumers. While these sites offer new market opportunities and product choices, they are also susceptible to “replica” or unauthorized sales. A prime example of this came in 2015, when small Etsy shops received cease-and-desist orders from Taylor Swift’s lawyers for trademark infringement. For celebrities or well-known brands that rely on trademarked goods, Etsy sellers pose a risk to brand reputation.

The demand for online goods has also lead to a spike in reseller sites such as Ebay. Resales make it that much harder to distinguish the real from the fake, as products are not sold by the original distributor or brand. With fake accounts and fake products galore, reseller sites represent a challenge for consumers looking for a good deal and for brands looking to curb the unauthorized sales of their goods.

How to identify counterfeits on marketplaces

Generally speaking, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.  That designer jacket that never goes on sale, yet is selling for ⅓ the price, it’s probably a counterfeit.  Fancy watches with the words “replica” are likely knock offs. In some cases, the sellers are more bold, utilizing trademarks and directly stating “knock off.”

In some cases, we’ve seen sellers post a nearly identical item and replace the actual brand trademark with the word “logo”, seemingly to imply when the product arrives it will be the brand you are expecting or it’s ready for you to supply whichever logo you want, wink wink.

On many ecommerce sites, you can see what else the vendor is selling, and can see ratings.  Vendors selling a small volume, yet eclectic mix of products, could be a warning sign. Moreover, many vendors selling counterfeits will get removed and start up again, so could have few ratings and/or low ratings.

In many cases, product reviews and vendor reviews will often have negative complaints that the product is a fake.  Do not just look at the aggregate score, read the negative reviews, and make certain you know who the seller is, particularly on sites like Amazon where multiple vendors can sell the same product.

What to do if you find counterfeit goods

When looking to buy, no matter how tempting price or apparent quality, do not buy a suspected counterfeit product.  Besides almost always being shoddy craftsmanship (buy nice or buy twice, which is also a good rule of thumb when buying digital risk protection too), counterfeit goods contribute to crime networks and labor trafficking. If you do recognize the warning signs and identify a fake, make sure to report it to the marketplace. Websites like Amazon rely on consumer reporting to find and remove fraudulent goods.

When it comes to your brand and company products, counterfeit goods represent lost potential revenue and reputational damage. Knowing where you buy and sell your products is a great first step to identifying unauthorized resales or counterfeit goods. Digital risk protection tools, like ZeroFox can help you identify and remove fraudulent and impersonating goods. ZeroFox monitors web marketplaces for counterfeits, unauthorized resales, trademark infringement and more, saving you time, resources and hard-earned revenue.

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