These products might look legit but they're not -- how to spot counterfeit items when shopping online

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Watch out for scams as the holiday season cranks up.

Popular products like iPhones, cosmetics, and sports apparel are being sold online and in stores, but not all of the products are the real deal; many items are counterfeit products.

Counterfeit products are a billion dollar business. Beyond the money, fake products can be dangerous and can have serious health impacts.

In North Carolina, inspectors with the Secretary States Office are constantly checking stores and online for fakes. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall said, "A lot of these things are safety and health issues, in addition, to stealing from the real mark holder."

Marshall showed ABC11 numerous counterfeit products her office has taken off the streets. She started with showing us fake iPhones. "The label is crooked. Apple would not send something like this. This information on the back is typically printed on the back and here it is labeled which is not how it's done," she said.

She said often times, there are red flags on the packaging that you need to pay attention to. She showed ABC11 counterfeit prescription contacts where "Never share your lenses with anyone" was printed twice on the box. "They are counterfeit and we have had young ladies with eye infections," Marshall said.



She also told us about serious safety and health concerns when it comes to counterfeit makeup products like blush. Marshall added, "Women mostly in particular were getting contact dermatitis because of the bacterial content in this."

And you know those perfumes offered for much less than retail price? Marshall said her office has confiscated several counterfeit perfume products. "It was a dead giveaway clue because there was a rash was coming here and rash coming here because that's where women apply perfume, but what about the women that go sniff sniff and breathe it in you're taking really bad stuff into your lungs."

Besides safety and health concerns, Marshall also said buying counterfeit products supports criminal activity. "If you think these things are harmless like the pocketbook or backpack, you are supporting a criminal enterprise. It has been clearly shown the mafia, Chinese gangs and also sometimes here in American this is street purchases for gang support while they are doing bad things here," she said.

Marshall said her inspectors have even spotted fake Viagra and medical supplies like tourniquets. "Imagine trying to tighten that thing after you are injured and the thing breaking off. We did find those somebody was selling them to rescue squads around here first responders," she said.

Cary based company Musclegen has also been impacted by counterfeiters. Owner and founder Dr. Brian Parks said, "We found out that there were unauthorized vendors on Amazon that were duplicating our look and selling it at a large price online but it wasn't our product."

Dr. Parks said fakes of their patented medical protein Genepro could lead to health problems. " We have A lot of our customers are bariatric patients so they determine their daily diet based on our protein. So if they're not getting enough protein their blood levels go way down and then their actually in health jeopardy," he added.

Dr. Parks said they would spend hours a day policing Amazon for fakes. Dr. Parks said it took time because they pay a third party $2,500 a month just to monitor Amazon and other online sites to make sure their patented product isn't counterfeited. "It's a huge cost for us but for us at the end of the day, it's a huge benefit for our customer because they now know they are gonna get what they are supposed to get."

The best advice to avoid buying counterfeits is to look for the red flags, such as is the price discounted more than the retail price? Also, online, make sure you're buying from a verified seller. Next, check out the reviews to see what others are saying about the product and seller and make sure they are verified reviews, not unverified.

As for Amazon, a spokesperson provided this statement:

"Our customers trust that when they make a purchase through Amazon's store-either directly from Amazon or from one of its millions of third-party sellers-they will receive authentic products, and we take any claims that endanger that trust seriously. We strictly prohibit the sale of counterfeit products and invest heavily-both funds and company energy-to ensure our policy against the sale of such products is followed. Our global team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to respond to and take action on reported violations and notices of potential infringement.
In order to detect bad actors and potentially counterfeit products, we make significant investments in machine learning and automated systems. We employ dedicated teams of software engineers, research scientists, program managers, and investigators to operate and continually refine our anti-counterfeiting program. When a business registers to sell products through Amazon's Marketplace, Amazon's systems scan information for signals that the business might be a bad actor, and Amazon blocks identified bad actors before they can offer any products for sale. Amazon's systems also automatically and continuously scan numerous data points related to sellers, products, brands, and offers to detect activity that indicates products offered might be counterfeit. Over 99.9% of all Amazon page views by our customers landed on pages that did not receive a notice of potential infringement.

We also work closely with vendors, sellers, and rights owners to strengthen protections for their brands on Amazon. Any rights owner can enroll in Amazon's Brand Registry to manage and protect their brand and intellectual property rights on our store. More than 40,000 brands are enrolled in Brand Registry and are using our free service to better protect their brand and control product information displayed on Amazon-this means brands can ensure their information is accurate and customers can make confident, informed purchasing decisions on Amazon.

We encourage rights owners who have product authenticity concerns to notify us; we investigate all claims thoroughly. We remove suspected counterfeit items as we become aware of them, and we permanently remove bad actors from selling on Amazon. Amazon investigated and took action on 95% of all notices of potential infringement received from Brand Registry within eight hours. With our proactive innovations that learn from the information in Brand Registry, brands in Brand Registry on average are finding and reporting 99% fewer suspected infringements than before the launch of Brand Registry. We have also successfully taken legal action against bad actors and will continue to pursue litigation and work with law enforcement where appropriate.

Customers are always protected by our A-to-Z Guarantee, whether they make a purchase from Amazon or a third-party seller. If the product doesn't arrive or isn't as advertised, customers can contact our customer support for a full refund of their order.

Customers trust that they will receive authentic goods when they shop on Amazon and anything that diminishes that trust is unacceptable. Counterfeit is an age-old problem, but one that we will continue to fight and innovate on to protect customers, brands, and sellers."
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