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Shop Smart and Stay Safe This Season

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) estimates that the global sale of counterfeit goods is above $2 trillion. The damage they cause goes well beyond economic repercussions for honest businesses and consumers – counterfeits are cause for serious safety concerns. This is especially important as retailers and their customers are in the midst of the holiday shopping season. Keep reading to learn why counterfeits are so dangerous, what you can do to spot fake products, and what other resources are available to protect consumers this holiday season, and all year round.

The dangers of counterfeits

Counterfeiting is more than a dollar and cents issue – fake products cause real harm in the form of more than 70 deaths and 350,000 serious injuries every year. Whether you mistakenly purchase knockoff electronics that catch fire or foods and perfumes made with poisonous, unregulated substances, buying a counterfeit product means taking a gamble on your safety. Unfortunately, these days, it’s not always easy to determine if you’re getting the real thing.

Shopping online is increasingly global, and you don’t physically see what you’ve bought until it arrives on your doorstep, making spotting fakes incredibly difficult. Many third-party websites knowingly list these counterfeit items as genuine products, often at what seems to be a great price. Worse, these scams are growing increasingly sophisticated. One study found that 26% percent of U.S. consumers had unwittingly bought at least one counterfeit product in 2019 alone.

In addition, international organized criminals are turning to counterfeiting to fund their other illegal activities like gun and gang violence, child labor, and human trafficking. The more informed you are  on identifying counterfeits, the less likely you are to support these criminals or get hurt by fake goods.

Getting the word out

Go for Real campaign

The USPTO is working with the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) to provide a number of helpful resources and tips to help consumers spot fake products. Since 2019, the “Go for Real” campaign has educated consumers, specifically younger buyers and their parents, about the serious dangers of buying counterfeits. This year, the campaign features ads that are being rolled out to more than 2,100 television stations, social media, electronic billboards, online gaming, radio and music services. Learn more in the joint press release from the USPTO and NCPC.

Think you can spot a fake? Test your knowledge in the Go for Real Challenge.

STOP FAKES campaign

Another important resource is STOPfakes.gov, a one-stop-shop for U.S. government tools and resources on intellectual property rights. The website includes resources on how to spot and report fakes, consumer and businesses guides, as well as upcoming events and training.

Shop smart

How can you stay safe and ensure you’re getting the real thing this holiday season? It starts with shopping smart.

Remember the 4 Ps:

  • Place: Are you buying from a trusted source, either online or at a physical store?
  • Price: If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Packaging: Does the packaging look “off,” e.g. graphics and printing blurred, colors imbalanced, labels not on straight, misspellings?
  • Product: Does the product or labeling have a quality look? Does it look comparable to what you’ve purchased before?

Protect yourself when shopping online with these tips, from the Go for Real Dupe Detector Kit:

  • Before browsing online, make sure your computer's security software is up to date.
  • Consider alternate payment methods to your personal bankcards, such as prepaid gift cards or disposable debit cards.
  • Be wary of pop-up and banner ads when shopping online. Many contain false information that may lead you to a malicious site.
  • Make sure that any site prompting you to enter financial information begins with “HTTPS://”. The "s" stands for "secure" and is accompanied by a locked padlock symbol.
  • Don't use the same password for all your purchase sites.
  • Avoid shopping while on public Wi-Fi and from public computers. If prompted, never save your account information (credit card, password, etc.) to a computer that is not yours.

Counterfeiting affects our daily lives, threatens our health and safety, and negatively impacts U.S. jobs and the overall economy. Remember these tips, and if you think you've been duped into buying a counterfeit, report it to help others shop smart and stay safe this holiday season and beyond.

Bureaus and Offices