PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As the state transitions to pre-pandemic norms, the rise of online shopping will likely remain – and along with it, the number of counterfeit products and fake reviews to trick shoppers.

To counteract these attacks on Oregon consumers, the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG) drew attention to the increase in pirated items and false reviews, and released a list of tips on how to best spot the scams last Friday.

OSPIRG said knock-off products have “crept into every sector of the economy,” but a recent shift in trends regarding which items online scammers have chosen to counterfeit pose a serious threat to public health.

“While counterfeiters used to focus on fake luxury items, such as purses or shoes, now, counterfeit products such as pharmaceuticals or batteries have become too common online,” the research group stated. “Unlike a knockoff accessory, these counterfeit products can threaten consumers’ health and safety, with some counterfeit pharmaceuticals containing incorrect amounts of active ingredients and some counterfeit batteries overheating and causing fires.”

Here are the best ways to avoid counterfeit items online, according to OSPIRG

  • Watch out for in-demand items: “If you’ve looked high and low for an item that’s sold out, you can’t necessarily trust what you find online,” OSPIRG said. A great deal isn’t always the safest deal. 
  • Check the website listing for clues: According to the research group, many counterfeit listings include misspellings and mislabeling within the product description, as well as low quality product images.
  • No age-restrictions: OSPIRG recommended paying close attention to age limits for products meant for children, and said to avoid items without restrictions, or age limits that do not match the manufacturers.
  • Check seller information: OSPIRG suggested shoppers view seller information for websites like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart which host third-party sellers, as well as feedback and other items to gauge reputability. 
  • Contact the seller with questions: According to OSPIRG, no response is a strong indication that the products may not be as described. 
  • Suspiciously low prices. The research group recommended comparing prices of similar items and being cautious of extremely low sticker costs.
  • Social media ads: OSPIRG warned shoppers to look out for targeted social media ads, citing research by the United States Trade Representative, which found they are a “fast, easy, inexpensive and common tactic” used to trick consumers into purchasing pirated products. 
  • Avoid buying medical supplies online: “If a product will be used in or around the body, it’s best to shop at a brick-and-mortar store or the company’s website,” OSPIRG said.
  • Suspicious packaging: According to the research group, broken safety seals, a lack of branding, or low quality packaging are all possible indications of counterfeit items.
  • Report bad experiences. OSPIRG encouraged consumers to report any knockoff items to www.saferproducts.gov or call CPSC at 800-638-2772. 

View OSPIRG’s full list of tips here.

“Counterfeit products can be found all over online marketplaces. Unfairly, the burden is on the consumer to identify these fakes. Our tip guides will help consumers who are unfamiliar with brand logos and product certification,” Fisher stated. “But crooks will be crooks. Counterfeit products are online to stay until we have stronger legislation to protect consumers.”

In addition to counterfeit items, OSPIRG warns consumers should also be on the lookout for fake online reviews which often create a false sense of security for the shopper and influence purchasing decisions. 

“Whether a fake review is positive or negative, any inaccurate or manipulative review is harmful to the consumer who is tricked into purchasing or not purchasing a product,” OSPIRG stated. “Spotting fake reviews is difficult, but these tips can help sort through the hundreds of reviews that can be found when shopping online.”

Here are the best tips to spot fake reviews online, according to OSPIRG

  • Check review dates: According to OSPIRG, lots of reviews posted in a short time frame can indicate they are not real. Therefore, products with a variety of reviews over a long period of time are a much safer bet.
  • Look out for flowery language: The research group cited a Cornell University study which analyzed hotel reviews and found the “real” reviews used blunt and concise language, whereas the “fake” reviews commonly used elaborate descriptive words to paint a scene.
  • Avoid products with copycat reviews: It may seem obvious but multiple reviews using similar language are often a sign of fake responses, OSPIRG said.
  • Review the Reviewer: Most websites allow you to view general information about the reviewer, OSPIRG suggests general names or a lack of reviews may mean the account is fake.
  • Avoid social media Reviews: Despite  FTC guidelines, which require influencers to disclose if they are being paid to promote a product, OSPIRG pointed out many influencers are coming under fire for choosing not to follow the guidelines and urge consumers to beware of reviews on social media platforms.
  • Check to see if the purchase was verified: According to the research group, reviews from a verified purchaser are more trustworthy than those that are not.

To view OSPIRG’s full list of tips click here.

“Spotting fake reviews does take time, concentration, and sometimes, research. But it’s worthwhile for consumers to differentiate between what’s honest and what’s too good – or bad – to be true,” Fisher said. “We applaud the Federal Trade Commission’s use of financial penalties to discourage fabricated endorsements and advocate for the agency to stay tough on companies that use reviews to deceive consumers.”