by H. Matthew Taylor, Esq.

The internet has provided consumers with an unprecedented ability to purchase goods from all corners of the globe. This increased access to goods is largely viewed as a positive development.

Unfortunately, there are online thieves who wish to cheat honest consumers and diminish the value of brand name products. Internet scams are plentiful and share a common goal: to capitalize on unsuspecting, and oftentimes, well-intentioned buyers. This article will focus on one type of deceptive internet practice, the sale of counterfeit goods. The information in this article will maximize the chances that your next online shopping experience is informed, safe and secure.

It is estimated that the sale of counterfeit goods is a $200 billion annual business. Commentators and analysts believe that number will continue to grow with the proliferation of web-based merchants. The Internet remains largely unregulated, with some designating it the “Wild West” of modern times. Studies have shown that suspicious e-commerce sites generate substantial market share that receive upwards of half the traffic generated by legitimate dot com sites.

As a consumer you should conscientiously evaluate both the source of the product and the product itself. Your due diligence is worth the small investment in time. At the time of purchase, be wary of a “genuine” product that is offered for a steeply discounted price compared to other similar merchants. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

You should check the website’s “FAQ” section to make sure the product is genuine and not being sold as a “replica.” Beware of “cybersquatting” which is the practice of using a brand name in a URL without permission from the brand. Terms like “discount” or “outlet” affixed after a brand name should raise some red flags. Also, you should generally avoid purchasing items from a website that has typos-especially where those typos misspell the brand name.

If you are purchasing a used item through an online auction site, such as Ebay or Amazon, take the time to read the guarantee and return policies of that service. Depending on the product, it may be a good idea to demand proof of authenticity.

Law enforcement officials continue to increase their efforts to enforce federal and state intellectual property laws. Taking these steps to be an informed, conscientious consumer is the best protection. It is in everyone’s interest to be mindful of this problem and alert authorities at www.stopfakes.gov if you suspect online counterfeiting.

H. Matthew Taylor is an associate in Stark & Stark’s Litigation, Mass Tort and Intellectual Property Practice Groups. mtaylor@stark-stark.com.

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