Everyone loves a great bargain, but the hunt for a good deal is becoming a risky business. The technicolour world of online shopping offers consumers an abundance of choice.
But the online marketplace is also a confusing mass of sellers. There are plenty of legitimate small businesses or resellers, but for every honest seller there’s often a fraudster selling low-quality imitations of trusted brand-name items.
These products often look like the real deal, but with a much lower price tag and at a much lower quality.
Determining whether you’re getting a genuine bargain or are buying a knock-off product can be difficult. Often, consumers won’t realise they’ve purchased a fake until it’s too late.
Known as the “grey market”, these products often aren’t counterfeits at all and may have been manufactured legitimately by a brand but are sold by an unauthorised retailer or channel, often at a reduced price.
In the European Economic Area (EEA) grey trading is illegal and consumers purchasing these products, knowingly or not, can find themselves in a tight spot later down the line as authorised retailers will often be unwilling to service grey market goods.
Before handing over any cash, make sure you know you’re buying from someone you can trust.
There are several ways to verify a seller and fraudsters will often give themselves away if you simply take the time to look into them.
While a bargain price tag doesn’t necessarily mean a product is a counterfeit, if it seems too good to be true that’s often because it is.
Many scammers bank on the fact that buyers will be so dazzled by the promise of a bargain they won’t do their research.
So at the very least, a ludicrously low price should raise some red flags and encourage you to do some digging before hitting ‘buy’.
Here’s some ways to outsmart counterfeiters and steer clear of grey market goods.
Take a closer look at those 5-star reviews
The natural first step would be to check the seller’s reviews. Many people will do this anyway, but reviews shouldn’t be taken at face value.
Of course, a litany of scathing remarks from irate customers will immediately tell you to steer clear, but even positive reviews should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Scammers will often post their own fake reviews, even on trusted sites like Amazon. Fortunately, there are some tell-tale signs that can tell you if reviews are genuine or not.
If they’re overly vague or generic, there are multiple comments saying the same thing with very similar phrasing or reviewers seem to be using exaggerative or promotional language, these can all hint that either the reviews are fabricated or that the seller has incentivised buyers to leave positive feedback, such as by giving away the product for free or by paying them for a good review.
Pay attention to the details
Sometimes, a seller’s online shop or page will immediately tell you they’re untrustworthy thanks to a dubious graphic design style.
But pro scammers can look very professional, so additional sleuth work may be needed. Try reading their “about” or “contact us” section.
If it’s full of grammatical errors and typos or lacks basic details such as a business address or phone number, that’s a good indication that something is wrong. You can go a step further by checking out the website domain.
Straight off the bat, you should be suspicious if the site ends in .org or .net – legitimate retailers typically don’t use those.
But if you’re unsure, copying the web address into a free website reputation checker (such as DomainTools) can tell you everything you need to know about the site, including when it was created and its IP location.
You should be wary of any sites that are written in your local language but have a domain that is hosted in another country or sites that are less than a year old.
Check out the packaging
Once your product arrives, there are ways of checking if it’s genuine or just a convincing counterfeit.
The packaging itself is often the first clue. Most brands use high-quality, well-designed packaging for their products.
It’s more than just about getting the product from A to B, packaging represents the brand so companies put a lot of thought into quality. Fraudsters, not so much.
They’ll try to emulate the design but often the packaging will be flimsy and of poor quality or the product might not fit properly.
Even if the packaging seems well-constructed, closer inspection could reveal details that point to the product being a fake.
Most people spend little, if any, time reading the fine print on the box but such details can be the key to spotting forgery.
Check if the box includes contact addresses, email addresses or websites and customer service phone numbers.
Mandatory legal information is often also printed on packaging, such as information about product warranty or health and safety details.
Some companies will go the extra mile to ensure customers can verify that the product they’ve bought is genuine. At HP, we are dedicated to empowering our customers with the knowledge and tools they need to identify fraudulent supplies.
For example, our cartridges include a QR code on the security seal of our packaging, automatically directing you to a validation screen.
You can also lookup the serial number on our website. We also include a holographic security label to prove authenticity and a tamper-evident label that can tell you if the product has been interfered with in any way.
Taking just a few moments to investigate before buying online could save you from the disappointment of a bargain gone bad and being saddled with a product quite different from what you were expecting.
The writer is the print lead for Africa at HP.