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How to Spot Counterfeit Products and Fake Online Reviews

Don’t Get Scammed: OSPIRG Draws Attention to Fake Articles and Reviews

(KOIN) – As life transitions to pre-pandemic norms, the rise of online shopping is likely to continue – and with it, the number of counterfeit products and fake reviews to trick shoppers.

To counter these attacks on consumers, the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG) drew attention to the increase in pirated articles and fake reviews and released a list of tips on how best to spot scams.

OSPIRG said counterfeit products have crept into all sectors of the economy, but many items that online scammers are currently counterfeiting pose serious threats to public health.

“While counterfeiters focused on fake luxury items, such as handbags or shoes, counterfeit products such as pharmaceuticals or batteries have become all too common online,” the research group said. “Unlike a counterfeit accessory, these counterfeit products can threaten the health and safety of consumers, with some counterfeit pharmaceutical products containing incorrect amounts of active ingredients, and some counterfeit batteries that can overheat and cause fires.”

Here are the best ways to avoid counterfeit items online

  • Beware of In-Demand Items. A good deal is not always the safest. “If you’ve searched high and low for an out-of-print item, you can’t necessarily trust what you find online,” OSPIRG said.
  • Check the website listing for clues. According to the research group, many counterfeit listings include spelling and labeling errors in the product description, as well as poor quality product images.
  • There are no age restrictions. Pay particular attention to age limits for products intended for children and avoid items without restrictions or age limits that do not match manufacturers.
  • Check seller information. Buyers should review seller information for websites like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart that host third-party sellers, as well as reviews and other elements to gauge reputation.
  • Contact seller with questions. Lack of response is a strong indication that the products may not be as described.
  • Prices are strangely low. Compare the prices of similar items and pay attention to the extremely low sticker costs.
  • Beware of social media ads. Shoppers should look for targeted ads on social media, the group says, citing research by the US Trade Representative. The data revealed that social media ads are a “quick, easy, inexpensive and common tactic” used to trick consumers into buying pirated products.
  • Avoid buying medical supplies online. “If a product will be used in or around the body, it’s best to shop at a physical store or on the company’s website,” OSPIRG said.
  • Does the packaging unprofessional? According to the research group, broken security seals, lack of branding or poor quality packaging are all possible indications of counterfeit items.
  • Report your bad experiences. Consumers can report any counterfeit items to www.saferproducts.gov or by calling CPSC at (800) 638-2772.

See the full list of OSPIRG councils here.

“Counterfeit products can be found everywhere in online marketplaces. Unfairly, the onus is on the consumer to identify these counterfeits. Our advice guides will help consumers unfamiliar with brand logos and product certification,” Fisher said. “But crooks will be crooks. Counterfeit products are here to stay until we have stricter legislation to protect consumers.

In addition to counterfeit items, OSPIRG warns consumers that they should also be on the lookout for fake online reviews that often create a false sense of buyer security and influence purchasing decisions.

“Whether a false review is positive or negative, any inaccurate or manipulative review is detrimental to the consumer who is led to buy or not buy a product,” OSPIRG said. “Spotting fake reviews is tough, but these tips can help sort through the hundreds of reviews that can be found when shopping online.”

Here are the best tips for spotting fake online reviews

  • Check the revision dates. According to OSPIRG, many notices published in a short period of time may indicate that they are not real. Therefore, products with a variety of reviews over a long period are a much safer bet.
  • Beware of flowery language. The research group cited a Cornell University study who analyzed hotel reviews and found that “real” reviews used direct, concise language, while “fake” reviews typically used elaborate descriptive words to paint a scene.
  • Avoid products with copycat reviews. It might seem obvious, but multiple reviews using similar language are often a sign of fake answers.
  • Review Examiner. Most websites allow you to view general information about the reviewer. General names or lack of reviews may mean the account is fake.
  • Avoid social media reviews. Despite FTC Guidelines, which require influencers to disclose whether they are paid to promote a product, OSPIRG explains that many influencers are criticized for choosing not to follow the guidelines. Consumers should be wary of reviews on social media platforms.
  • Check if the purchase has been verified. According to the research group, reviews from a verified buyer are more reliable than those that are not.

To view the full list of OSPIRG advice, click here.

“Spotting fake reviews takes time, focus, and sometimes research. But it’s worth it for consumers to differentiate between what’s honest and what’s too good — or bad — to be true,” Fisher said. “We applaud the Federal Trade Commission’s use of financial penalties to discourage fabricated endorsements and urge the agency to remain tough on companies that use reviews to mislead consumers.”


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