UK shoppers spend almost £1 in every £5 via the internet, with 59% of online sales made through smartphones or tablets.1 With accessibility and ease to shop online for just about anything, it is not difficult to be drawn to third-party sites offering seemingly unbeatable prices for products and, in particular for designer goods.

The 2017 Situation Report on Counterfeiting and Piracy in the European Union states that online marketplaces continue to be key distribution routes for counterfeit goods. Online listings are used by legitimate traders of genuine goods, making it harder for the consumer to differentiate between what is counterfeit and what is genuine. E-shops on online platforms selling small volume remain a common business model utilised by legitimate traders, but also now a model adopted by those selling counterfeits in the EU.

A report from one leading UK economics consultancy, The Centre of Economics and Business Research, conducted with online brand specialist NetNames reveals that the economic consequences of the counterfeit market are wide reaching and serious. In 2016, counterfeit goods cost the UK economy £17.3bn and destroyed 72,000 jobs. The 2017 Situation Report on Counterfeiting and Piracy noted that the product categories of sports shoes, bags, watches, purses and clothing had the highest number of cases of counterfeit seizures on the EU external borders.

With electrical, pharmaceutical and cosmetic goods making up the bulk of the counterfeit market, along with clothing and footwear, fake goods also pose a risk to health and lives. Buying a counterfeit mobile phone charger for example, could cause anything from damage to the charger or phone, through to electrocution, burns or in the worst case scenario, even house fires. Similarly, the purchase of counterfeit perfume, and other cosmetic products that are directly applied to skin, could pose a serious health risk to the user.

Fashion and beauty blogger Inspired by Ida, knows first-hand about the dangers of buying makeup online, and discusses her experience of buying a counterfeit product on her blog.

“I was lucky I was able to report the seller to the auction site I used as I had paid for the item through a well-known site that offers seller protection, so I was able to get my money back. I would definitely advise against buying cosmetics and electrical items from third-party websites, and would always recommend using the brands’ own site to shop for goods. That way, you know you are safe.”

Top tips to help you shop safely online:

  • Always check the URL of the site you are looking to buy from. Make sure the web address begins with ‘https,’ which shows that it is a secure website.
  • Stick to using websites you know and have already used, and always read reviews.
  • Check feedback of not only the seller, but feedback relating to the product you are buying, as the two things are not the same.
  • Always pay for items using a means that includes seller protection, do not part with cash or send bank transfers.
  • Look for spelling mistakes on product listings, web pages and in domain names. A genuine website will rarely have spelling mistakes.
  • If the product looks suspiciously cheap, and being sold far below the price you expect it to be, it is most likely to be counterfeit.

Finally – remember: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is!