Commissioner's Blog: Counterfeit goods pose consumer safety risk
With Acting Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard
Consumer Protection recently attended an intellectual property rights workshop in Perth where makers of products, particularly electrical items, showcased physical examples of genuine and non-genuine items to highlight the differences. The session was mainly to help Australian Border Force officers detect counterfeit goods but we took away some consumer messages.
Each year hundreds of thousands of products worth tens of millions of dollars, often from China or South East Asia, are seized on their way in to Australia. Despite those staggering statistics and incredible border protection efforts, it’s inevitable some dodgy imports will slip through the net. Consumers may also accidentally purchase counterfeit goods online and have them delivered to their homes.
Items such as fake designer bags may seem harmless but a number of counterfeit products pose a safety risk to consumers, including things like:
- phone chargers, which may cause an electric shock or fire;
- cosmetics or perfumes containing ingredients that can burn skin;
- clothes made with harmful poisonous dyes; or
- sunglasses that don’t protect your eyes from UV rays.
How the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) might apply
‘Consumer guarantees’ under the ACL mean products must be safe, match the description given and be of acceptable quality. Additionally, it is against the law to create a misleading overall impression among the intended audience about the price, value or quality of goods.
Designer aftershave in a unique style bottle with recognised labelling should be as described; not an inferior quality product that smells differently and causes a rash. It’s also unacceptable to market an electronic item as well-known brand when it’s a copy that could be unsafe.
It should be noted that a business can create a false or misleading impression without intending to and still face legal action. Consumer Protection was recently approached by a business, which had unknowingly sold counterfeit products and wanted to right the wrong. We commend this approach.
Tips to avoid buying counterfeit products
- Research identifying features of genuine articles, such as holograms or serial numbers.
- Be aware some manufacturers of premium brand products, including a very well-known hair straightener, have developed tools for consumers to determine whether an appliance is genuine. Details can usually be found on the official website for that brand.
- Know that genuine electrical items must meet Australian standards – they should have approval markings. More information is at www.energysafety.wa.gov.au
- Check businesses are registered with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (see www.asic.gov.au) before buying from them. This is very relevant for pop-up shops, market stalls and retail websites.
- When buying online find out about the seller’s reputation by checking customer rating systems, online forums and review websites.
- Use a third-party payment service like PayPal or a credit card for payment protection.
- When buying from a business on eBay, choose the 'Buy it Now' function if possible, as opposed to auction bidding, so you are covered by the Australian Consumer Law.
- If you’re buying from a private seller, ask for proof that the item is genuine. This could be the original receipt or a serial number you can cross-check with the manufacturer. The ACL generally does not apply private sales.
Bought a fake by mistake?
- If you have bought an item believing it was the genuine article and suspect it is counterfeit, you should speak to the retailer in the first instance.
- If the retailer is in Australia and you cannot resolve the matter, lodge a complaint with Consumer Protection using the form at complaint.commerce.wa.gov.au (no w’s).
- If it’s from an international retailer you can report the matter via www.econsumer.gov and to the overseas-based fair trading or consumer protection agency for that country.
- If you have paid by credit card, ask your card provider for a chargeback on the basis you unknowingly bought counterfeit goods / the item supplied is not as described.
- If you used Paypal, seek a refund via their dispute resolution process. Transactions (retail and private) up to $20,000 are covered by Paypal’s buyer protection policy.
- Intellectual property crime can be reported to the police or Crimestoppers (crimestoppers.com.au).
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