The SafeOpt Guide To Buying Tech Products Safely Online

Consumer electronics command high prices due to their popularity and our inability to live without them. That makes them an attractive target for scammers. Scammers create counterfeit electronic goods that are really cheap, and of terrible quality. They then sell them to you online, putting you at risk of electrocution and house fires.

Research by CSC Global found that electronics counterfeiting is a $169 billion problem worldwide. Yes, 169 billion dollars. CSC Global also estimates that 10 percent of electronics sold worldwide are fakes.

Some of these manufacturers and sellers do get caught. Like the counterfeit iPhone manufacturer in China. They were shut down in 2015, but only after producing 41,000 fake iPhones worth $19 million.

But, unlike the fake iPhone manufacturer, many don’t get caught. So, read this article, and be vigilant when shopping online for tech products. Counterfeit electronics are everywhere, and they pose a danger to you and your family.

What’s In a Fake?

You might think that fake tech products are easy to spot…

You might have no trouble telling a real iPhone from a fake one, even from a photo.

But, there are hundreds of thousands of counterfeit electronic goods online. Products that you won’t be able to tell are fake. Like SanDisk SD cards. Tiny memory cards that you could almost hide under your thumb. Would you be able to tell a fake from a genuine product? We tried, and without comparing them side by side, you really can’t. Most likely you don’t even know what to look for. Or you don’t even know that you should be wary of fake products like counterfeit SD cards while shopping online.

How common are fake tech products?

When it comes to SanDisk SD cards, one engineer estimates that up to 30% of the SD cards sold online are fake.

SanDisk SD cards are often used by photographers to hold their images from photoshoots. Made by Toshiba, they’re reliable and of high quality. Because of their popularity, they’ve become a popular target for scammers and counterfeiters.

As we mentioned above, CSC Global also estimates that 10 percent of electronics sold worldwide are fakes.

What can go wrong with fake tech products?

You might think “what could go wrong with a counterfeit memory card? It still holds the photos, right?”

Well if it does at all (many don’t), then it only does until it doesn’t.

Counterfeit SD cards are a huge problem for photographers. Imagine being paid thousands of dollars to do a wedding photoshoot. Then, 90% of the way through, you lose all your photos because the SD card you bought was counterfeit… Not only are you going to have to refund the clients. You’ve also got a very unhappy (understandably) Bride and Groom to deal with.

If you’re not a pro photographer, even losing all your family photos is enough incentive to learn to spot a real product from a fake.

It could be a fire hazard

Earlier we said you’d probably be able to tell a fake iPhone from a real one. But what about a fake cable, charger, or dongle? It’s a lot harder to tell a fake pair of apple AirPods from a real pair. Or a fake Lightning cable from a real one.

The danger with fake charging cables, batteries, and similar items is that they’re a huge fire hazard.

They don’t go through the same quality control procedures as legitimate electronics accessories do.

If (most likely when) it breaks. You won’t have a manufacturer warranty to fall back on

The manufacturer will be interested to learn about where you purchased counterfeit goods. But, they won’t honor a manufacturer warranty on these illegitimate products.

By all means, you should contact them if you think you’ve found some counterfeit goods. But don’t expect any warranties to be upheld, or refunds.

How do you avoid being scammed when buying electronics online?

There are two things you need to do when shopping online for electronic goods.

  1. Avoid getting scammed in the first place
  2. Be able to recognize when you have been scammed

In this article, SafeOpt will teach you how to do both.

First, how to avoid being scammed.

How to avoid scammers selling counterfeit electronic goods online

  1. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

That cool brand name product at a steep discount?

It sounds great, sure.

But chances are it’s fake.

Stores do have discounts all the time, we know that. It is possible to purchase great products, legitimate products, online. But, fakes are so common that unless it’s a super reputable seller, it’s probably fake if the price is a lot lower than you would expect.

Apple AirPods for $30 is just unrealistic. As is a super cheap Nintendo Switch.

  1. Check the reviews

Earlier at SafeOpt, we wrote a comprehensive guide to the importance of online reviews. In the article, we teach you how to spot the tricks stores use to deceive you. We bet you’ll be surprised at some of the tactics used.

When shopping online you can’t rely on the reviews being real.

Online product reviews are so important to consumers. This leads some stores to fake them in creative ways.

In our earlier article, you’ll learn why it’s not enough to just read the reviews. You need to learn to spot a fake.

All up there are 11 things you need to look for, to spot a fake review or a bad store online.

  1. Buy from reputable stores

The simplest advice is most often the best.

Buy direct from the manufacturer. For example, Apple. Or from a reputable & authorized 3rd party reseller.

Marketplaces like Amazon, and eBay, are reputable and well-known companies themselves. But, buying from them does not guarantee your products are legitimate. Amazon and eBay contain a mix of reputable 3rd party sellers and scam stores. While you might trust Amazon as a brand, don’t automatically trust every seller on the online marketplace.

In fact, a survey by RedPoints found that 25 percent of respondents had been sold fake electronic goods on Amazon. Additionally, thirty percent of people surveyed had been sold counterfeit electronics on eBay.

The most commonly purchased counterfeit electronic product was headphones (28.3 percent). Other fake products often sold to consumers by scammers included smartphones and tablets, speakers, drones, cameras & video cameras, and smartwatches. Almost 20 percent of shoppers said they had been sold a fake e-cigarette or phone accessory.

Apple actually sued at least one 3rd party seller on Amazon. This happened after Apple conducted their own research on the seller, by purchasing 100 products from them.

Apple’s own examinations of these tech products, such as iPhones and Lightning Cables, revealed almost 90 percent of them to be counterfeit.

Having your money stolen by scammers is the least scary thing that can happen when buying tech products online.

Apple tested the charging devices and cables purchased via the (former) Amazon 3rd party seller MobileStar. Apple found that they all failed the most important safety test for charging devices and cables.

Failing these tests means that the devices can overheat and cause a deadly fire, or even deliver a lethal electric shock to the user. 

  1. Search for “{Product Name} Real Vs. Fake” Online

Even if the product has passed our first three tests, don’t go straight for the “buy now” button just yet. You’ve still got more research to do.

Learn from the experiences and mistakes of others. Find “real versus fake” comparisons online to see all the small details you need to look for when spotting counterfeit products.

You’ll be surprised at how small the differences are between real tech products and fake tech products. But they do exist. Friendly and helpful internet users have likely already created a guide for the exact products that you want to buy.

A quick search in a search engine could save you a lot of trouble.

  1. Stay Cyber Secure

Having your money stolen by a scammer who sold you a fake product isn’t the only thing you need to worry about when shopping online.

You also need to protect your data, your passwords, and your accounts.

Read SafeOpt’s Tips For Internet Security And Protecting Yourself And Your Data Online for a comprehensive review of all the cyber safety measures you need to take when shopping online.

That includes the one letter you need to be looking for in a web url, the conversation you need to have with your family and friends, 13 common vulnerabilities and exploits you maybe didn’t know about, and more…

Next, we’ll tell you how to know when you have been scammed. So keep reading. Even with all the best checks in the world, you can’t be 100% safe from scammers and counterfeit goods. Once you have the product in your hands, you need to do some further checks.

SafeOpt shows you how, below.

How to Recognize when you’ve been scammed buying tech products online

  1. Compare the product you received to the images on the product advert online

Stores selling fake items often use photos of the real product. But they ship a fake.

When you receive your item, compare the packaging carefully to the packaging shown online.

Compare the item carefully to the item shown online.

But, before alarm bells start ringing if you find a discrepancy…

It’s possible that any discrepancies are due to lighting conditions, and perhaps some slight image editing from the supplier.

Don’t jump to conclusions too fast. But differences in color or shade are indications of a fake product and something you should investigate further.

Also look for differences in font, even if only slight. Stores selling fake products do their best to make the product look similar to the real product. But often they’ll use a slightly taller, slimmer, shorter, or thicker font than is used on the real item.

Unless you had the fake product and the real product side by side, you wouldn’t know.

That’s why you need to compare the product used in the image when you purchased the item, to the product you actually received.

Also, look for images on the manufacturer’s actual site. For example, to find out more about SanDisk SD cards, go to the site.

Type in any item numbers listed on the item, and check the images and information that comes up. You can do this via a search engine, but we advise also doing it on the manufacturer’s site if you can, too.

  1. Examine the product carefully

Once you’ve received the product, you’ll be able to examine it more closely. It might seem like a lot of effort to go through, especially if the item is only worth $20. But, let us remind you that counterfeit products, especially electronics, can be incredibly dangerous. They can start a house fire, or even give you a painful or potentially lethal electric shock. This is because fake electronics often don’t pass essential safety tests. So take the time to review all the fine details before you start using the item.

Things to look for include:

  • Misspellings on packaging or documentation
  • Incorrect information on labels
  • Dates that are too far in the past
  • Dates that are in the future
  • Check that a dry pack is included. Scammers will miss details like this but reputable manufacturers will not.
  • Does the country of origin make sense?
  • Does the country of origin match any country codes on the item?
  • Look for misspellings and incorrect information on labels.
  • Check that the parts and date codes on the label or packaging match those on the item.
  • Check all the part and date codes with a search engine, and see which items show. Search for “{Brand Name} {Item Number}” online to see if the manufacturer actually sells any items matching the number shown on your device or packaging.

What should you do if you think your electronic goods are fake?

Stop using it

As we mentioned earlier, counterfeit electronics goods are a threat to your personal safety. Using them is a serious fire hazard, and also a risk for electrical shock.

Stop using the product immediately if you think it might be counterfeit.

As always, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Contact the seller

Contact the seller and explain to them you think the product might be counterfeit. Tell them why you think that, and include any images or comparisons you think are relevant.

It’s possible that they weren’t aware themselves. Don’t immediately assume they have scammed you.

If you’re dissatisfied with the seller’s answer or don’t receive one:

If you purchased the item via a marketplace, like Amazon or eBay, they usually have a refund policy for situations like these.

Write to the marketplace and explain to them what has happened. Or use any processes they have in place for this. Go to their help or support section and find a solution to your problem there. Or, contact the marketplace support directly via phone or email.

Amazon for example has an A-to-z guarantee that is valid for 90 days from the date of purchase. But, this option should only be used after you have tried to resolve the issue with the seller.

You might also opt to leave a message on the seller’s storefront, or a review. Explain why you’re leaving the review, and provide any evidence you have. Include screenshots of any attempted contact with the brand, too. If they haven’t responded to you already, the fear that a bad review instills in them might prompt them to respond.

If you purchased the item via a 3rd party online store, like a standalone store with its own domain name (not an Amazon or an eBay). Leave a review on the product, and if possible on the store too. Again, include any screenshots and images as evidence. Including your attempted correspondence with the brand.

You might still be able to use the seller’s regular refund policy even if the seller wasn’t responsive to your concerns about the item being fake. If the purchase date of the suspected counterfeit item is within the refund terms, try returning it. If the seller disagrees that the product is counterfeit, they may still honor their refund policy anyway. Tell them you’re not comfortable with the product and it wasn’t as you expected it would be.

Contact your credit card company

If you’re still unable to get your money back from the seller, you might have some remaining options.

You can initiate a chargeback with your credit card company. It’s not a sure bet, but in some cases, you might be able to get your money back.

Contact the legitimate brand

If you think you’ve purchased counterfeit products, write to the brand whose products were faked.

Counterfeit products are a huge financial and brand image problem for legitimate brands.

They’ll be able to dedicate their resources to investigating the counterfeits, and having them removed from any marketplaces or websites.

Don’t expect them to refund you though. If you didn’t buy from them or one of their approved resellers, then they’re under no obligation to refund you.

Replace the item

Most likely you bought the item because you needed it. You should replace the item, but this time buy it from an authorized reseller or direct from the manufacturer.

That marks the end of our SafeOpt article on buying tech products safely online. With counterfeit electronics making up approximately 10 percent of all online sales by some estimates, they’re becoming far more prevalent. That means you need to become much better at recognizing counterfeit electronic goods.

Your best line of defense is recognizing them before you purchase. If you to make a purchase, follow up with a post-purchase inspection when the items arrive. Buying counterfeit items means a financial gain for online scammers and potential harm to you or your loved ones using the products. SafeOpt wants you to be safe and in control when shopping online. If you liked this article, share it with your friends and loved ones to keep them safe online, too.

SafeOpt was designed to protect and keep you in control of your data while also sending you exclusive deals as you shop online. SafeOpt is easy to sign up for and free to use, visit today to save time and money while shopping securely online.

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