How can online shoppers avoid buying counterfeit and stolen products?
Throughout the pandemic, e-commerce has played a pivotal role in bringing products to the doorsteps of Ohio families.
Unfortunately, fraudsters and professional thieves are taking advantage of this growth in online shopping by peddling their counterfeit and stolen products to unsuspecting buyers.
Hiding behind fake screen names and fake businesses that they easily create on third-party marketplaces like Amazon and Facebook Marketplace, these bad actors are able to scam consumers and often evade law enforcement.
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To stop these criminals and protect consumers, lawmakers must pass the Integrity, Notice, and Fairness of Online Retail Markets for Consumers (INFORM Consumers) Act, bipartisan legislation that would protect those who are here in Ohio.
Online marketplaces are riddled with counterfeits – counterfeit products that are dangerous, harmful, and don’t meet the strict safety standards that Americans expect from any trusted retailer or manufacturer. These scam sellers sell everything from fake auto parts to counterfeit car seats to toys.
These criminals have sunk even lower by selling counterfeit N95 masks during the pandemic.
The counterfeit industry not only puts families at risk, it threatens America’s economic competitiveness.
Ninety percent of all counterfeit products come from China. These illegitimate sales cost US retailers nearly $54.1 billion in sales.
Unfortunately, e-commerce platforms have gone above and beyond to recruit China-based sellers for their marketplaces, despite their lack of concern for the health and well-being of Ohio consumers.
However, counterfeits are only half the problem.
Organized retail crime rings – professional criminals who snatch products from store shelves for a living – are now selling their stolen goods in online marketplaces. Across the country, these criminal syndicates have managed to seize more than $68 billion in stolen property.
In Ohio, retailers faced over $2 billion in stolen goods.
This criminal activity has cost over 21,000 jobs and over $1 billion in salaries. From Perrysburg to Grove City, these brazen criminals put Ohio retailers and consumers at considerable financial and physical risk.
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These criminals are often violent, forcing retail workers in Ohio to confront dangerous criminals. Ultimately, professional thieving rings will do whatever it takes to make a profit, even if that means assaulting innocent workers and uncaring customers in the process.
While Ohio and federal law enforcement efforts are essential to stopping these nefarious activities, authorities need help. The INFORM Consumers Act, which was just passed by the US House as part of the America COMPETES Act, would help prevent criminals from peddling counterfeit and stolen products online.
Under the legislation, e-commerce platforms would be required to verify their high-volume third-party sellers, and sellers would have to disclose basic information to consumers.
When Ohio shoppers buy items from their local retailer, they know exactly who they’re buying from and who to turn to if they have a problem. The same should apply to online purchases on third-party marketplaces. This is an important step towards greater transparency and accountability.
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Senator Rob Portman is expected to support this common-sense measure and ensure it makes its way to President Joe Biden’s office. While there is very little Democrats and Republicans can agree on, stopping the sale of counterfeit and stolen products is something any lawmaker in Washington can achieve.
Columbus state lawmakers are showing Washington that this is an important priority, voting overwhelmingly in both houses in favor of state legislation that mirrors federal efforts. State lawmakers have made it a priority, local law enforcement has made it a priority, and retailers are desperately waiting for Congress to follow their lead.
Unless we stop criminals from using online marketplaces to make a profit selling dangerous and stolen goods, counterfeiting and organized retail crime will continue to harm Ohio businesses and shoppers.
Congress can help families and local businesses in Ohio by passing the INFORM Consumers Act and bringing national consumer protection laws into the 21st century.
Michael Hanson is the spokesperson for the Buy Safe America Coalition, which represents retailers, consumer groups, manufacturers, intellectual property advocates and law enforcement officials who support efforts to protect consumers and communities against the sale of counterfeit and stolen goods.