We’ve all at some point suffered the disappointment of purchasing an item online, only to find something completely different inside the package when it finally arrives.
But what if your dud purchase ended up being deadly?
We’ve found that a quarter of people in the UK have fallen victim to counterfeit scams when shopping online and one in ten Brits have first hand experience of an electrical fire or shock caused by an electrical product they have purchased online.
Despite this, one in three admit that they would buy a fake electrical product for a saving of 30% or less. But, as counterfeit and substandard electrical products present a serious risk of fire or electric shock, these deals are definitely too good to be true.
Buying from Online Marketplaces
A third of people who have bought an electrical fake purchased the product from an online marketplace. It is easy to set yourself up as a trader on popular sites like Amazon Marketplace, eBay and Wish and there is not enough regulation in place to prevent people from using the sites to sell counterfeit and sub-standard electrical products, as well as those that are subject to a product recall due to a serious safety risk.
Electrical Safety First recommends buying from a retailer that you trust, either direct from the manufacturer’s website or a trusted High Street name – the products they sell will meet the correct safety standards but if something does go wrong, you can return the product for repair or a refund.
When you're browsing an online marketplace, it isn't always obvious that you are not buying directly from the manufacturer or a well known retailer. To make it easier, we have launched a Browser Extension, available on Chrome, Firefox, MS Edge and Safari, that will highlight third party sellers and help you to stay safe when shopping online.
Find out more:
Check It Out
Download our Google Chrome extension 'Check It Out' to help stay safe when shopping on Amazon and eBay.
How to spot fake electrical products online
If the price is (almost) right, it’s probably fake
Some fakes are for sale just below the recommended retail value, hoodwinking shoppers that are too savvy to fall for the ‘too good to be true’ deals. Make sure you do your homework if you decide to buy products below high street retail prices.
Don’t just take the seller’s word for it – or the reviewer's!
Beware of a product with solely glowing reviews, especially if the reviewers aren’t verified. Some sites cross-reference user reviews with their buyer database and label those people as "verified purchasers".
Know where you’re buying from
Make sure you know where the supplier is based, a ‘co.uk’ URL doesn’t guarantee the website is UK based. If there is no address supplied, or there is just a PO Box, be wary; many fake electrical goods are manufactured overseas, where they will not be safety tested and are produced as quickly and cheaply as possible.
Beware of words qualifying an item’s authenticity
If the seller claims the product is ‘genuine’, ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ double check the source. Most reputable retailers don’t need to sell their products like this.
Spot the lock to pay safely
Look for websites that allow you to pay safely – these have a padlock symbol at the bottom of the screen when you are filling in your payment details. If you can’t see it, do not enter your payment details.
How to spot if you’ve bought a fake item
Inspect the packaging and item carefully
Look out for the tell-tale signs of flimsy packaging and substandard printing, such as spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. If you’re questioning the packaging, compare your item to an online image from a trusted, high street retailer.
Look for a legitimate safety certification label
All electrical products will have one or more safety certifications on their label if made by a legitimate manufacturer. If the certification mark is present only on the packaging, but not on the product itself, there's a good chance the product is fake. Find out more about post-Brexit changes to safety marking here.
Make sure everything that should be there is there
Fake products may not include supplementary materials such as a manual or a product registration card or even all the parts!
Check the plug
If you’ve purchased your product from a UK retailer, look to see whether the appliance has a three-pin UK plug or charger.
Trust your instinct – you’re probably right
If you are still uncertain about your product for any reason, you’re probably right to be wary. Visit the high street to compare your product to those on sale in store; if your item varies in any way do not use it.
What to do if you’ve bought a fake item
If you have proof your item is fake, contact the supplier immediately stating your case and demand an explanation; if there has been a mistake made, now is their chance to clarify.
Demand a refund – but stay civil and calm
You have the legal right to a refund if you’ve bought something that’s fake. Despite this, it can be difficult if you’ve made the purchase from an unknown source so be sure to pay with PayPal or your credit card, as your purchase will likely be insured.
If the seller refuses to give you a refund
If you are not able to settle the dispute yourself, contact the retailer that manages the marketplace (such as Amazon) as they are able to intervene on your behalf. If they are unable to help, contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06 for advice.
Alert other consumers – provide feedback
If you can, leave feedback to warn future shoppers about the situation and potential problems, but do stick to the facts and make sure any claims are accurate.
Don’t ignore it - report it
If you know your product is fake, report it to Trading Standards so that they can take action against the seller; selling fake products is illegal and puts people’s lives at risk.
Download our guide to safe shopping online