CONSUMER advocacy group Choice will launch a campaign from today to help online shoppers avoid becoming a victim of the booming global trade in counterfeit products.
The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service seized more than 700,000 counterfeit products last year with a total estimated value of $48.5 million - based on equivalent value of genuine goods.
Globally, the trade in these sophisticated knocks-offs generates $272 billion annually, the OECD estimates.
To better understand the potential consumer pitfalls of shopping online, Choice surfed the internet to purchase the same pair of shoes from two different online retailers.
Choice head of media Tom Godfrey said the results highlighted the challenges facing consumers.
"We purchased one pair from Nikestore.com.au and the other from bestfreerun.com. Both online stores carried the company's brand and appeared at face value to be authorised retailers," Mr Godfrey said.
"We found what appeared to be the same pair of shoes on both sites and paid $160 for the shoes from nikestore.com.au and $87.42 from bestfreerun.com."
One pair arrived in two days and the other seven. Choice then deconstructed the shoes to try to determine the difference.
It has created a website to see if consumers can "spot the fake".
The website - http://www.choice.com.au/spotthefake - goes live from today and also provides consumers more information on how to navigate around online counterfeiters.
Mr Godfrey said the days of easy-to-spot fakes, with their misspelt logos and shoddy craftsmanship, were all but gone.
And he warned not all of these products were harmless.
"Pharmaceuticals and cosmetics sold overseas online are unregulated with no requirement for them to be produced in sanitary conditions," he said.
"If you're lucky, counterfeit perfume will only stain your clothes, but it may cause skin allergies, burns and trigger respiratory problems."
Fake electronics containing inferior components and bad wiring and dodgy sporting equipment also posed a safety risk, he said.
BEFORE YOU BUY
- Search for independent customer reviews and testimonials from the retailer to check their reputation.
IF YOU GET DUPED
- Try to sort it out with the retailer
- Make a complaint to your fair trading or consumer affairs office.
- For overseas purchases you can make a complaint at econsumer.gov.
- Report it to the police or Crimestoppers as an intellectual property crime.
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