How to spot websites selling counterfeit goods


by Katherine Whaley / KHOU 11 News

Posted on December 6, 2011 at 6:13 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 6 at 6:21 PM

Houston – Are you planning to do holiday shopping online?  If you’re looking for a deal, you might end up finding trouble if you are not careful. 

The US Attorney General’s office has ordered the seizure of 82 websites alleged to have sold counterfeit goods. That may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Working mom Delinda Sterling is checking off items on her holiday shopping list one keystroke at a time.  She says online shopping helps her save time and money.

"I’ve just found that I can get some really good deals," Sterling said.  "My oldest is 16 and my husband says I bought him on eBay because that’s where I spend most of my time!"

As a veteran online shopper, Sterling knows you could be just a click away from a major scam, "I had something I had received; it wasn’t what I thought they represented."

If that sounds familiar, you are not alone.  The U.S. government is cracking down on websites selling counterfeit products, but it’s an uphill battle for consumers and investigators. 

Monica Russo of the Houston Better Business Bureau says catching counterfeiters is a challenge. 

"As soon as one site shuts down, another one opens. Any top brand you can think of, there’s a counterfeit for," said Russo.

According to investigators, you can find counterfeits for brands ranging from Tory Burch to Sony to Disney to Louis Vuitton.  

Russo says there are a few red-flags to help you spot a site selling fake:

1. Look for grammar and spelling errors on the websites

2. Find where the domain is registered.  Many illegitimate retailers’ domains are registered in China.

3. Look at the "contact us" section, if there’s no physical address or phone number, beware.

Shopper Delinda Sterling also has some practical words of wisdom after years of online shopping experience.

1. Make sure you are giving financial information over a secure site.  Look for "https" (rather than "http") when submitting payment information.  You can also look for a highlighted lock symbol in your web browser.

2. Use a separate credit card with a lower spending limit for online purchases. If your credit card information is compromised, you can cancel it easily.

3. Use a gift card to make online purchases. Credit card companies like VISA offer credit cards in lower denominations

Remember, if you order online from an illegitimate website, it might be very difficult to make returns. 

"It’s really difficult to return things to Hong Kong or China," Sterling said.

Finally, the Better Business Bureau reminds you to research your sites to keep a scam from stealing Christmas.