There are several steps that consumers can take to protect themselves when shopping online:
- Purchase goods only from reputable retailers and be wary of third-party vendors.
- Check seller reviews and verify there is a working phone number and address for the seller, in case you have questions about the legitimacy of a product.
- Read product reviews on websites and research companies you aren’t familiar with.
- Don’t buy expensive items from third party websites.
Remember: If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Criminals often use legit product photo on their websites, despite selling a fraudulent product, and often, you’ll pay full price for an item that is subpar and will not last long.
This illicit activity impacts American innovation and erodes the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers and workers. The biggest danger illegitimate products pose is they aren’t manufactured using U.S. standard and codes.
Holiday Shopping Tips
Black Friday/Cyber Monday Shopping
- Take advantage of security features. Passwords and other security features add layers of protection if used appropriately. (See Choosing and Protecting Passwords.)
- Check privacy policies. Take precautions when providing information, and make sure to check published privacy policies to see how a company will use or distribute your information. (See Protecting Your Privacy.)
- Check your statements. Keep a record of your purchases and copies of confirmation pages, and compare them to your bank statements. If there is a discrepancy, report it immediately.
- Be careful what information you publicize. Attackers may be able to piece together information from a variety of sources. Avoid posting personal data in public forums. (See Staying Safe on Social Networking Sites.)
- An increase in the use of e-commerce platforms and social media to sell counterfeit goods: The internet has been a great leap forward that allows people from all over the world to engage with each other and has opened the door for businesses small and large to reach customers that they would not have reached thirty years ago. Unfortunately, criminals and bad actors will take advantage of the same mechanisms to target people that they would not have previously been able to target and to hide behind the anonymity that the internet can provide.
- Third-party Payment Processors: While these companies have made it easier for smaller businesses to accept credit cards, criminals have also found ways to abuse and take advantage of the same mechanism.
- Shipping Loopholes: Criminals and their networks increasingly break up their shipments into smaller sizes in order to limit the risk associated with having one of their shipments lost and increase the challenge posed to Customs officials who attempt to detect the contraband.
- According to the Toy Association, Inc: Movie toys took a back seat to evergreen branded toys in 2020, but due to the influx of more ways to consume entertainment in 2021 (i.e. more streaming services, hybrid film releases, social media, and online gaming) will fuel growth of licensed toys once again for holiday. This will be most visible in categories including collectibles, dolls, action figures, playsets, and roleplay and dress-up. Also be on the lookout for toys infused with innovative new play features — from unique unboxing experiences to cool techy traits.
- Operation Engine-Newity: In 2009, the automotive industry alerted the IPR Center to emerging health and safety threats related to the illegal sale and distribution of counterfeit automotive, aerospace, rail, and heavy industry related components parts and equipment. Operation Engine-Newity was created as a collaborative effort between HSI, CBP, the FBI and other partner agencies to address threats like counterfeit airbags, brake pads, steering rods, and bearings.
- Operation in Our Sites: Operation in Our Sites is a strategic offensive targeting the distribution of counterfeit products through websites. Initiated in June 2010, IOS counters online IP criminal activity by disrupting and dismantling organizations through criminal investigations, domain name seizures and asset seizures and arrests. These actions target both individuals operating illegal websites and those using legitimate websites to conduct criminal activity.
- Operation Body Armor: Operation Body Armor targets the illegal importation of unapproved, counterfeit or adulterated personal healthcare and beauty products into the U.S. As online sales have skyrocketed, incidents of illegal product importation have dramatically increased. Several federal government agencies have joined forces with the health and beauty industry to combat smuggling and safeguard U.S. consumers.
- Operation Surge Protector: The prolific use of consumer electronics and technology products generated an opportunity for criminals to create and sell counterfeit devices. These products are often manufactured with substandard materials and without testing or passing safety requirements, posing a real public health and safety risk. To address this, Operation Surge Protector was created in 2016 to stop the criminal trade of electronic components and devices that can malfunction and cause serious injury.
Click here to learn more about ongoing operations.
Partners & Resources
- The Toy Association, Inc.
- Underwrites Laboratory | Be Safe Buy Real
- CBP.gov | The Truth Behind Counterfeits
- Consumer Product Safety Commission
- ICE.gov | Counterfeit Goods: A Danger to Public Safety
- Automotive Anti-Counterfeiting Council
- Association for Home Appliance Manufacturers
- FDA | Are Some Cosmetics Promising Too Much?
Holiday Shopping Videos
For FY2020, the IPR Center, in conjunction with CBP, seized approximately 2,891 shipments of counterfeit goods totaled an estimated manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of more than $341 million. IPR Center-related enforcement efforts in 2020 led to 322 arrests, with 174 indictments and 137 convictions.
Do's & Don'ts
Consider opening a credit card account for use only online. Keep a minimum credit line on the account to limit the amount of charges an attacker can accumulate.
Debit cards do not offer protection against identify theft. Additionally, because charges are immediately deducted from your account, an attacker who obtains your account information may empty your bank account before you even realize it.
Use good password practices.
- Use a different passwords for each accounts.
- Use the longest password or passphrase permissible by each password system.
- Develop mnemonics to remember complex passwords.
- Consider using a password manager program to keep track of your passwords.
Forget security basics.
- Keep your operating system, browser, and other software up to date.
- Use and maintain antivirus software and a firewall.
- Use caution with email attachments and untrusted links.
- Watch for suspicious activity on your accounts.
Criminals try to trick holiday shoppers into buying substandard, even hazardous, counterfeit goods. Counterfeit electronics can explode, bicycle helmets can shatter, cosmetics can harm your skin, holiday lights can catch fire. Be vigilant. Protect yourself and your family. Share this webpage.