You are looking for a specific pair of shoes of your favorite brand. On the official website of the brand, these shoes do not exist in red as you wish. By surfing on other sites, you finally find what you are looking for and for much less than the price on the official site. You order and pay for your purchase but on delivery, the disillusion is there: the shoes are very badly finished with coarse stitching. Despite your reminders, the seller does not answer you anymore. You may be a victim of counterfeiting.
Counterfeiting is the act of reproducing or imitating a branded product without any authorisation. Typically directed at the luxury market, this phenomenon also affects everyday consumer products, and particularly electronic devices, or even medications.
There are several clues that can help you avoid falling into the trap of counterfeited online purchases.
- When using a search engine to shop online, be wary of websites referenced at the bottom of the page or on the second or following pages. Large brands nearly always appear front and center on search engines, often paying for this prized location. But be cautious at these links too: websites on the first page are not necessarily official! False websites can sometimes be optimized on search engines to appear on the first page.
- In the search engine's results, pay attention to the description (aka snippet) found under the website's link. The snippet usually provides a brief description of the brand. A counterfeit website's snippet usually shows a series of product names followed by words like "cheap", "free delivery", "savings", "women", "men", or a price reduction. These words correspond to the keywords consumers would type into a search engine when shopping for these products.
- Verify who registered the website by checking its origin country via WHOIS, and official domain name registries such as DENIC (for .de websites), AFNIC (for .fr websites) etc.
- Compare the prices shown with the brand’s official store. Be suspicious when prices are very low or when there is a large price reduction.
- Make sure that the website’s sitemap includes legal mentions which provide the vender’s contact details and the Terms and Conditions.
- Compare the brand’s logo with the one shown on the website in question.
- Carefully read the offers, the Terms and Conditions, etc. on the website. If they have spelling or grammar mistakes, the website could likely be fraudulent. Brands and official partners pay close attention to their usage of language on their websites.
- If you want to buy a product but worry it is counterfeit, always ensure that you can see an actual picture of the product before buying
- Finally, pay attention to the proposed method of payment. Often a counterfeit website will ask for advanced payment. Avoid cash payments via money order, which do not carry guarantees.
Verify with the brand if the vender you are intending to buy from is an authorised seller, and indicate any unauthorised seller to them.
Certain high-tech or luxury products are limited to be sold in a small distribution network. Thus it is impossible that these products could be sold new on a third-party website. Products proposed as such are necessarily counterfeit or at least not authorised to be sold, despite the website’s claims.
You buy on a site presented as European but your order is blocked in customs. Products from a non-EU country over 150€ are effectively subject to customs duties. Additional costs are then asked for, which do not guarantee the delivery of the articles, which are often the result of counterfeiting.
- Do not pay the extra charges
- Request in writing the cancellation of the order and the refund of the sums paid to the seller
You’ve purchased a counterfeit product, but you realised it too late. What to do? Do you wish to file a complaint?
Turning against the vender
- Ask for reimbursement from the vender for fraud.
- Exercise your right to withdrawal.
Warning: If the vender is deliberately selling counterfeit products, it’s unlikely that he will cooperate and answer to your demands.
If you have bought counterfeit goods via an auction or classified ads website, you will not be able to engage the responsibility of these sites, as they are third parties to the contract that binds you to your seller.
You can only hold them liable if you are able to prove their knowledge of the products as counterfeit and that they continued to feature them on their website. Consequently, you should be extremely vigilant when purchasing products on individual websites and on classified ads websites.
Filing a complaint
- File a complaint with the police or the gendarmerie
- Refer the complaint to the Customs office or the anti-fraud services of your region
Bring attention to the counterfeiting
- Indicate the incident to the brand: as a rights holder and a brevet holder, the brand could itself bring up legal proceedings against the fraudulent websites
- Indicate the facts of the counterfeit to the « Office Central de Lutte contre la Criminalité liée aux Technologies de l'information et de la Communication »
You are in possession of a counterfeit product, purchased in a neighboring country, and are now at a border control: be careful, you could be exposed to heavy sanctions!
Crossing a border within the European Union while in possession of counterfeit products, whether purchased accidentally or deliberately, exposes you to sanctions (which vary according to the country where the infraction took place).
Good to know: Despite the opening of borders within Europe, mobile customs patrols operate regularly near border zones. Regular checks are also performed in ports and in airports. In the case of such a customs check, the traveler must justify the lawful origin of what he or she is transporting.