Some of the most popular e-commerce sites are being misused by ruthless sellers as a platform to exploit online shoppers, exposing them to thousands of substandard, counterfeit and suspected recalled electrical goods. Consumer protection charity Electrical Safety First discovered a shocking 1 in 3 UK residents , the equivalent of 18 million people , have mistakenly purchased a counterfeit electrical item online. These people were led to believe that the product they were buying was genuine, only to discover a fake delivered to their homes, posing a potential risk of electric shock or fire.
Millennials are most likely to fall victim to counterfeit scams, as new research shows around half of 25 to 34 year-olds have been conned into buying fake electrical goods online . In contrast, less than 10% of people aged 55+ have received a counterfeit item after shopping on e-commerce websites .
A further investigation by the Charity uncovered dangerous electrical goods for sale across a selection of e- commerce sites, including Amazon, Amazon Marketplace, eBay and Fruugo . The type of products causing concern included tumble dryers, Kodi boxes, kettles, travel adaptors, and hair straighteners.
Electrical Safety First’s technical experts identified a variety of frightening safety flaws with the products, including a serious lack of protection from electric shock and the potential to cause a fire. Alarmingly, a number of goods advertised also matched items listed on the Charity’s product recall list .
The Charity believes these online sites must work harder to protect consumers from the dangers of counterfeit goods, as new research shows 1 in 7 people have suffered damage or loss as a result of a fake electrical item they’d purchased online .
An overwhelming number of Brits (92%) believe e-commerce platforms regulate and monitor third-party sellers to protect buyers from purchasing counterfeit products. Online shoppers trust Amazon the most, with 85% confident that the site safeguards users from dangerous electrical goods, followed by eBay (66%) Amazon Marketplace (65%) and Fruugo (12%).
Exposing the flaws of registration, Electrical Safety First discovered how easy it is to set up shop on e-commerce sites. The Charity created its own seller profile named ‘Dangerous Electrical Ltd’, which was successfully verified after using a fake name, passport number and date of birth to create the profile.
This is not the first time Electrical Safety First has raised concerns about the issue of counterfeit goods sold online. Last December, the Charity published a report revealing that the majority of counterfeit or lookalike Apple chargers sold online have the potential to deliver lethal electric shock and/or cause a fire . The Charity tested 50 chargers purchased in the UK and 98% failed one or more safety tests.
Electrical Safety First is calling on e-commerce websites to strengthen their efforts in preventing the sale of counterfeit, substandard and recalled goods. The Charity has written to Amazon UK, eBay UK, and Fruugo UK to highlight the problem of sellers advertising dangerous appliances on these websites.
Phil Buckle, Chief Executive of Electrical Safety First commented: “We are appalled to discover how easy it is to buy dangerous electrical goods online. Our investigation uncovered appliances that were visibly substandard, counterfeit or even subject to a recall, with model numbers matching items on our product recall list. Latest figures show card spending on the internet totals £154 billion per year , so it’s unsurprising that 1 in 3 of us have mistakenly bought a counterfeit online. It’s evident that e-commerce websites must work to improve the way in which they regulate third-party sellers to protect consumers from the risks posed by dangerous fake goods.”
Do’s and don’ts of online shopping
Do check the price – If it’s a bargain and the price is too good to be true, then it probably is!
Don’t trust images – Seeing is not believing. Do not trust that the image displayed on the advert is a true representation of the product you will receive.
Do look for contact details – If the seller’s contact details are not supplied, or there is a 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.
Don’t rely on reviews – Previous happy customers may not be aware they have purchased a substandard or counterfeit item. Reviews will be based on the product working at one point in time, rather than the potential safety risks it poses.
Do buy from a reputable retailer – by buying your electrical products from reputable retailers, or directly from the manufacturer, you can be assured you’re buying the real thing.
How to check if you’ve bought a fake:
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. 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. Fake 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. 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 think you might have purchased a fake electrical product:
If you suspect you have purchased a fake, stop using it immediately. 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. For more advice, visit electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/spotthefake.