Dangerous fakes being sold through leading online retailers

26 November 2015

  • Investigation finds dangerous counterfeit items for sale through popular online retail marketplaces
  • Millions of Brits expected to bag a bargain in seasonal sales starting tomorrow, with online electrical purchases set to soar
  • Electrical Safety First issues warning to shoppers to buy from reputable retailers, as testing reveals counterfeits are at risk of exploding, risking serious injury or property damage

An investigation by leading safety charity, Electrical Safety First, reveals highly sophisticated, dangerous counterfeits are for sale through popular online retailers. Last year, over one million people found they had bought a counterfeit[i], including must have items such as NutriBullets, GhD hair straighteners and Apple accessories.

The findings come as consumers and merchants prepare for an unprecedented online shopping bonanza starting tomorrow. The US-inspired discount days, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, exploded in popularity in the UK last year setting sales figures soaring against the previous year[ii] – electrical sales alone increased by a third[iii].

As almost 15 million Brits prepare to buy online tomorrow[iv], the Charity is warning bargain hunters to ‘shop smart’; the number of reported counterfeit electrics has grown by 12% in the past year[v]. New research reveals purchasing decisions are most influenced by price, convenience and brand[vi] with over a third (35%) of shoppers saying they’re not guided by the retailer or person they purchase from. Savvy scammers are exploiting this, with counterfeit items now almost impossible to spot.

Typical tricks used to hoodwink unwitting shoppers online every day include imagery taken from official product sites, fake official safety marks and believable pricing; items can be priced just a few pounds below recommended retail value to avoid arousing suspicion.

Tests carried out by Electrical Safety First reveal that while many items appear sophisticated on the outside, even those with small fake internal components are at risk of exploding[vii], leaving consumers open to serious injury or property damage.

Emma Apter, Head of Communications at Electrical Safety First, says: 

“While the sales offer a great chance for shoppers to bag a bargain online, it’s vital they keep their wits about them to make sure they’re getting a real deal. Counterfeits are now readily available at the click of a button and despite fake electrical products appearing more convincing than ever, they can contain less than half the internal components required to run safely. We’re urging people to ‘shop smart’, at best you could be swindled but at worst you could be putting your life at risk. The best way to guarantee an item’s legitimacy is to buy directly from official online retailers.”

Electrical Safety First’s investigation found fake electrical items are frighteningly accessible online, with well known online marketplaces easy targets for counterfeiters who are not directly vetted by retailers, leaving unscrupulous sellers to take advantage of online sales peaks. Despite this, 85% of consumers said they felt confident making purchases from popular online site Amazon Marketplace, which ranked higher than other retailers including Tesco (82%) and eBay (73%).

Paul Toner knows just how easy it is to be fooled by fake products online after buying a counterfeit NutriBullet from an online marketplace earlier this year. Paul says:

“I’ve purchased many products online before and nothing about this item set alarm bells ringing. The price was marginally cheaper than high street retailers, so I believed I was getting a discount and trusted the seller as I thought I was buying directly from Amazon. When the Nutribullet arrived it was clearly shoddily made and there wasn’t even a warranty – looking back I was really lucky, had it been more professionally designed I might have plugged it in and been seriously injured! I’m now incredibly careful when shopping online, it was a real wakeup call for just how easy it is to be taken in.”

Electrical Safety First is warning the millions of shoppers that purchase regularly, and without hesitation, from marketplace websites that the only way to guarantee an item’s legitimacy is to buy directly from official online retailers. The Charity has created the Shop Smart Guide for shoppers, offering tips for spotting counterfeit items and what to do if you’ve been scammed.


For more information please contact Libby or Tanya on electricalsafetyfirst@forster.co.uk

or call 0207 403 2230.

Notes to editors

  • Electrical Safety First is the UK charity dedicated to reducing deaths and injuries caused by electrical accidents. We campaign to improve safety regulation and messages, and provide expert information and advice to the public and professionals to help ensure everyone in the UK can use electricity safely. Visit www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk for more information
  • All consumer research, unless otherwise stated, was conducted from 9th – 12th October 2015 by Populus on behalf of Electrical Safety First with a sample of 2,127 adults. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults
  • An online marketplace is a shopping network where suppliers can sell their products from a retailer’s site.
    • Shop Smart Guide:
      • Tips and hints for spotting and avoiding fakes
      • Advice on what to do if you think you’ve bought a fake



[i] Although the true figure is thought to be higher. Source: ‘A shocking rip off - The true cost of counterfeit electrical products’, Electrical Safety First, p. 4

[ii] Sales expected to increase by 90% on Cyber Monday 2015 when compared to Cyber Monday 2014. Source: Network Trends: Black Friday & Cyber Monday Predictions, Rakuten http://blog.marketing.rakuten.com/affiliate/network-trends-black-friday-cyber-monday-predictions

[iii] Sales of electrical household appliances in November 2014 increased by 32.0% compared to November 2013. Source: ONS, Retail Sales, November 2014, http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/rsi/retail-sales/november-2014/stb-rsi-november-2014.html#tab-Sector-Summary

[iv] From a survey of 6,000 people by eDigital Research for Yodel, June 2015. 30% planned to make purchases online on Black Friday 2015; based on the UK adult population of 49.8 million. Source: Black Friday & Peak Trading Operations Playbook, Salmon, p.5, https://www.salmon.com/mediafile/filer_public/4d/6e/4d6e54b3-fa5f-4479-8f11-7aeb568caa47/black_friday_playbook_final_010915.pdf

[v] Source: ‘Annual IP Crime Report: 2014-2015, Intellectual Property Office, p.8

[vi] 95% of people are guided by price and 79% by brand when making the decision to purchase an electrical item

[vii] Source: ‘A shocking rip off - The true cost of counterfeit electrical products’, 2015, Electrical Safety First..18. (Of the 15 13A counterfeit plug fuses tested: 10 failed – with 3 (20%) of these exploding)