The number of reported counterfeits in the UK grew by 12% between November 2014 and 2015, and these are just the ones we know about.
Counterfeit items are now almost impossible to spot. Online shoppers are being misled by imagery taken from official product sites, fake official safety marks and believable pricing - items can even be priced just a few pounds below recommended retail value to avoid arousing suspicion.
They may look like the real deal, but counterfeit electrical products are particularly risky as they often contain faulty parts that can overheat and catch fire or deliver a fatal electric shock.
Electrical Safety First urges everyone to steer clear of counterfeit electrical products by purchasing through reputable retailers.
How to spot fake electrical products online
1. If the price is (almost) right, it’s probably fake
Some counterfeits 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.
2. 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".
3. 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 counterfeit electrical goods are manufactured overseas, where they will not be safety tested and are produced as quickly and cheaply as possible.
4. 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.
5. 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 counterfeit product
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Make sure everything that should be there is there
Counterfeit products may not include supplementary materials such as a manual or a product registration card or even all the parts!
4. 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.
5. 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 counterfeit item
1. Act immediately
If you have proof your item is counterfeit, contact the supplier immediately stating your case and demand an explanation; if there has been a mistake made, now is their chance to clarify.
2. Demand a refund – but stay civil and calm
You have the legal right to a refund if you’ve bought something that’s fake or counterfeit. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Don’t ignore it - report it
If you know your product is counterfeit, report it to Trading Standards so that they can take action against the seller; selling counterfeit products is illegal and puts people’s lives at risk.
For more tips on spotting counterfeit goods, check out our Safe Shopper's Guide.