Tis the Season for Fakes, Knockoffs and Rip-offs

December 7, 2011

Looking for a great deal on hot, name brand items this holiday season may be slightly safer after the federal government seized 150 internet domain names during a targeted crackdown on counterfeit goods, but letting your guard down would be a real mistake.

Cheap fakes are usually easy to spot and hard for crooks to get a lot of cash for, but sophisticated counterfeit high end goods can often pass as legitimate, allowing scammers to command the same prices as the real items and making it a lucrative business for criminals.

Counterfeit goods may be dangerous to your health; whether the knockoffs are shoes or electronics, how those materials were handled, what they were treated with, and whether they were tested may pose serious risks to your health – or the health of your gift recipient.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton, “Not only is this is a direct threat to American innovation … but it’s also a public safety issue.”

Not only is your health at risk, and the financial health of the legitimate companies whose products are being counterfeited, it’s important to understand that criminals reinvest their profits to bankroll more crime. Your purchase may be funding your upcoming identity theft.

The government said it is unclear how much money criminals have made from counterfeiting, but since the crackdown on counterfeit sellers started last year, internet users have gone to the seized domains more than 77 million times.

Asked about the commercial value, Morton said, “Typically we don’t track the volumes of sales of these particular sites, [but] it is very large figures. Well, well above millions.”

Top 10 Counterfeit Products

Take particular care when shopping for any of the top 10 counterfeit items, which according to The National White Collar Crime Center are:

  1. Footwear – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $45.75 million
  2. Consumer Electronics – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $33.59 million
  3. Clothing – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $18.68 million
  4. Handbags/ Wallets/ Backpacks – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $15.42 million
  5. Music/ Movies/ Software – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $12.68 million
  6. Computers & Hardware – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $9.5 million
  7. Cigarettes – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $8.85 million
  8. Watches & Parts – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $7.85 million
  9. Jewelry – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $6.76 million
  10. Prescription Drugs – 2010 Domestic Seizure Value: $5.66 million

To better protect yourself, from fakes, scams, and thieves, see my blogs 6 Steps to Avoiding Black Friday Scams, Cyber Monday Sales Skyrocket – Now Watch Those Credit Card Statements.



Double Check those Daily Deals

October 19, 2011

If you are among the legion enamored with the ‘great deals’ delivered to your inbox every morning, pay attention: Those deals may be inflated to look better than they really are.

A story on Thumbtack.com found that 80% of the daily deals quoted ‘standard’ prices that were higher than what you’d get by visiting or calling the stores to inflate the sense of getting a good deal.
While the sample size was small – 5 from Living Social and 5 from Groupon – the false spin on the discounted rate should raise eyebrows; and maybe a lawsuit or two for misleading advertising.


The urge to inflate is understandable, but not acceptable. In order to promote your services on daily deal sites, a company has to offer a steep discount. If the discount is too steep, and there isn’t a cap on the number of users accepted, a company may not recover from their generosity.

This tale makes for an excellent lesson in digital literacy and savvy shopping for teens and tweens just getting into online shopping – and maybe a remedial lesson for a few who have been shopping online for some time.

Just because a site offers a ‘deal’, doesn’t mean it is a good deal. Do your homework. Is the price really the best price? Is the offer from a company with a great reputation? Are you so excited by the ‘deal’ that you purchase something you don’t actually want? In cases, where you end up working directly with the company, do you end up giving more information to the company than they should have about you? Beyond the terms and conditions of their ‘offer’ do you know their terms and conditions for maintaining your privacy?

There is nothing wrong with using daily deal sites, in fact I’ve made several purchases from these sites myself. The problem comes if you assume that the offer is as good as the deal says it is. Take a few moments to check it out before you click that link. Because not all things that glitter are gold.


Online Holiday Spend Set Record; Now Scrutinize Your Credit Card Charges

January 11, 2011

You’ve taken down the decorations, found space for all the new ‘stuff’, and created your New Year’s resolutions… but wait! Before you put the holidays behind you, closely review your credit card statements to be sure the charges you see are charges you made.

By all accounts, online holiday spending hit new highs. According to data from comScore the November – December 2010 holiday season reached a record $32.6 billion in spending, marking a 12% increase over the $29 billion spent in the 2009 holiday season.

Spending was so high on Cyber Monday (Monday, Nov. 29) at almost $1.03 Billion that it stands as the single heaviest online spending day of 2010 billion, and it shattered previous records to become the single greatest spending day on record.

Crooks are making a list, and checking it twice…..

With all that money flowing through all those websites via all those unprotected computers, cyberthieves have surely had a heyday.  And if you aren’t paying close attention to the charges on your credit card statements, you may have given one ‘gift’ more than you intended.

If there are fraudulent charges, make sure you check your credit scores as well. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to one free credit disclosure in every 12-month period from each of the three national credit reporting companies—TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.

  1. Request a free credit report from one of the three companies for yourself, your spouse, and any minors over the age of 13 living at home to check for credit fraud or inaccuracies that could put you at financial risk. (Although exact figures are difficult to get, the latest data shows that at least 7 percent of identity theft targets the identities of children.) The easiest way to do this is through AnnualCreditReport.com.
  2. You can also pay for credit monitoring services that will alert you to any suspicious activity or changes in your credit scores.

Have a happy new year.


It is Not A Bargain if it isn’t Safe

December 14, 2010

More than 22 Billion dollars have already been spent in online holiday spending this season, and an expected 30 million people will use the internet to buy presents according to ComScore data.

Unfortunately, it appears that many consumers are more interested in scoring a bargain than they are in their online safety. In fact, only one in seven prioritize buying from a trusted site according to new research from Paypal that found shoppers priorities concentrate more on finding a bargain (63%) than buying from a trusted website (14%) or rapid delivery time (10%).

A good Deal isn’t Either/Or

Receiving value when purchasing requires two ingredients – a good price and a safe experience. Settling for just a good price places you at risk of receiving counterfeit and inferior goods, at having your information stolen, sold or repurposed, never receiving the items, and, as we’ve just seen in the news, threats of bodily harm. See my blog Death Threats from Sellers for Trying to Return an Online Purchase.

Email and web scams are at an all-time high

From the scams that have landed in my inbox, I can only assume that this years hot items (beyond the usual Viagra, bodily enhancements, and hot women) are Ugg Boots and Nike Knockoffs, and the usual “Lolex” watches.

Checking a site’s legitimacy only takes a moment – and its time well spent

There really is no excuse for failing to check the legitimacy of a website. It only takes a moment or two, and everyone has the skills to do so. If you can search for a store’s name or for whatever item you’re shopping for, you have the skills to search for the stores reputation. If you can’t find a reputation for them, DON’T SHOP THERE. If they have a lot of complaints against them, DON’T SHOP THERE. It’s that easy.

Two key factors determine your level of safety when shopping or conducting any financial transaction online. The first is how well you secure your computing environment; the second is how savvy you are at identifying scams vs. legitimate offers. To test how well you manage your online safety, see my blog ‘Tis the Season – 10 Steps to Safer Holiday Shopping Online.


Death Threats from Sellers for Trying to Return an Online Purchase

December 13, 2010

You don’t expect to get death threats over an online purchase, but that’s now been the experience of at least two separate shoppers, one on each side of the country.

In the first incident, police arrested cyber merchant Vitaly Borker from in Brooklyn after allegedly threatening customers requesting refunds. The New York Times investigated and found Borker was threatening customers in an effort to get his business to score higher on Google search rankings.

Then, this week in Seattle, a couple contacted an online merchant to return what were obviously knockoff Nike shoes and the company contact responded to their refund request with a threat ” ‘Okay, our boss said we will employ a guy to kill you!’ ”

Interviewed by Komo TV on the incident, cyber specialist and president of the Safe Internet Alliance, Linda Criddle, said she thinks it’s an empty threat given the company is based in China, but never-the-less a very unpleasant experience.

“You need to do your homework,” Criddle said. “You need to type that store’s name and the word ‘review’ into a search engine and see how they’re reviewed. You want to see lots of reviews about a store.” She suggests searching complaints too.

Criddle also recommends shoppers think twice if the company is based out of country. “If it’s coming from abroad you need to be very careful ’cause you don’t have the ability to go after them in some fashion,” Criddle said.

See the blog ‘Tis the Season – 10 Steps to Safer Holiday Shopping Online for more information on how you can increase your safety while shopping online.

To watch the TV segment from Komo News, click here.