Valentine's Day is nearly upon us – that loved (or loathed) annual celebration that gives retailers a seasonal excuse to take full advantage of customers playing cupid. The internet has become a popular place to buy gifts but whatever the choice of Valentine's gift many, consumers are being duped by counterfeit websites and fake products when shopping on the internet.

According to a recent survey commissioned by online brand protection specialists MarkMonitor, 24% of consumers have bought a product online that later turned out to be fake. The study looked at online shopping habits, and showed that consumers are frequently falling prey to counterfeit goods on the internet, particularly in light of the level of sophistication that websites selling counterfeit goods often display. Out of those shoppers who admitted being caught out by online counterfeiters, nearly half (48%) said they thought buying fake products was morally wrong.

However, in sharp contrast from this romantic view, some online shoppers actually said they would buy counterfeit goods in the future. Alarmingly, 20% of consumers knowingly continue with a purchase after finding themselves on a website selling fake goods and the research showed that in the 18-24 year old age range, consumers are more likely to have bought counterfeit goods or said they would be willing to do so in the future. The biggest items that topped the counterfeit shopping list were in the fashion and footwear category and were viewed as the most desirable fake products.

So is romance dead? Or do consumers looking to buy genuine products just need to take care for when shopping online? This Valentine's Day, it’s not just over-priced roses and cheap chocolates they need to be wary of. Counterfeit goods are growing on the internet, and those who are romantic at heart should be on their guard when purchasing genuine brands for their Valentine.

No matter how internet or business savvy you are, there are five key aspects to consider when buying online:

1. Price: Counterfeiters are wising up and realising that sometimes it can be more convincing the less the dress is reduced. Search around for the recommended retail price (RRP) and even if the dress only has a small discount, such as 20%, it is worth checking other elements of the website to see if they stack up.

2. The site itself: Although some websites look professional at first glance, counterfeiters aren't always so careful about the 'About' or 'FAQ' page. Check these sections and make sure you look at the delivery details and note where the company is based, does it match up with the designer dress company's details? Also, look at the delivery options – less reputable sites won't bother with these.

3. Return and Privacy Policies: These should be clear if it's a reputable site. A bona fide seller should provide an option of how to cancel orders and where to return goods. Counterfeiters won't usually invest the time to craft a clear, strong privacy policy, so if there isn't one on the website, be warned.

4. Check the web address: Impersonation of a brand's website and what is referred to as 'cybersquatting' are on the rise. When doing an initial search for the brand name, check the link and look out for spelling mistakes on both the website and the URL address. If the address begins with https://, the 's' tells you it's a secure site. Some of the big brands have dedicated pages on their websites so consumers can check whether a seller is authorised.

5. Online marketplaces: Even if the marketplace itself is a brand you know, check reviews of the seller or try find any forum chats and speak to other retailers before placing that order.


By Simon Whitehouse, Senior Director, EMEA, MarkMonitor

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