Counterfeit and knockoff baby products are more common than you think on the internet—and some can be dangerous. But if you know what to look for, you can avoid buying these fake products that lurk on sites like Amazon and eBay. The experts weigh in.

By Anna Halkidis
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Online shopping can be a blessing for any busy person, especially parents who may never find time to make it to a store amid diaper changes, food spills, and temper tantrums. In fact, almost half of parents in the United States said they shop online weekly, according to a Pitney Bowes e-commerce study—totally understandable.

But parents should be wary when buying baby products off online marketplaces, such as Amazon, eBay, and Walmart.com. Unfortunately, they aren't safe from counterfeit products (exact imitations pretending to be a product) and knockoffs (resembling the product but not identical) that have long been making their way online. And many parents have fallen victim: 30 percent of them have bought a fake baby item online, according to research from Red Points.

The biggest issue? These fake products, which include diapers, baby carriers, car seats, baby formula and bottles, and toys, can pose a threat to a child's well-being. "Our biggest concern is that these infringers, knockoff, or counterfeit sellers aren’t going through the same rigorous testing requirements that established brands are undergoing," says Rebecca Mond, vice president of federal government affairs at the Toy Association, a not-for-profit trade association for the U.S. toy industry. In turn, fake products can contain chemicals, easily break, and be a choking hazard. Spare a thought for the 4-year-old boy in Wisconsin who had to remove part of his colon, intestines, and appendix after swallowing magnets from a Magformers counterfeit.

“In terms of risk, you just don’t actual know how that product is going to perform," says Linnea Catalan, executive director at Baby Carrier Industry Alliance, a corporation increasing awareness of the value of quality baby carriers and helping small businesses comply with standards. For example, baby carriers that aren't tested and don't meet safety standards may not even be able to support the weight of your tot.

Combating the booming counterfeit business isn't simple. Amazon says it's investing "heavily" to stop the sale of such products by working closely with brands selling on the platform and detecting counterfeits through machine learning and automated systems. "We investigate any claim of counterfeit thoroughly, including removing the item, permanently removing the bad actor, pursuing legal action, or working with law enforcement as appropriate," an Amazon spokesperson tells Parents.com. But online shoppers probably won't see an end to fake products anytime soon.

In the meantime, experts in the baby and child product world say parents can be more vigilant. Before completing an online purchase for your little one, here's a few things you can do to make sure the real deal ends up on your doorstep.

Know the product you are shopping for

It can be easy to confuse a real product from a fake one, especially since they can look so much alike. But it's important to learn a product's details, even things as simple as the correct name, says Mond. Shoppers can use the brand's website to compare a product (and can opt to shop directly through there to guarantee they aren't purchasing a counterfeit or knockoff). Some company websites also list which retailers are authorized to sell their products.

Check to see who the seller is

Once you found what you're looking for, pay attention to where the product is coming from. Purchasing from a third-party seller (sellers that aren't the brand or authorized retailer) on an e-commerce site increases the chances of a product being fake. A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office revealed 20 of 47 items it bought from five "popular consumer websites" were counterfeit. If choosing a third-party vendor, pay closer attention to that seller by researching the name, reading what buyers have to say, and checking out the return policy.

Pay attention to a product's price

“If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is,” advises Mond. It doesn’t mean good deals don’t exist online, especially around the holiday season, but extreme discounts can hint at a fake product. For example, she says, be vigilant if you see a product being sold at $25 across the board, and suddenly find it for $12 somewhere else online.

It’s easy to get excited over a good deal, says Catalan, but she agrees that a big discount like that is often a good indication that the product isn’t legitimate.

Read the reviews

Before completing a purchase, scroll down and read what buyers are writing about the product. It's common for shoppers to talk about malfunctions of a specific item, primarily when it comes to safety.

But keep in mind, fake reviews do exist, and there are ways to spot those, too. “If you are seeing the same review with just a few words changed or broken English," says Mond, "that should raise a flag."

Anna Halkidis is the features editor at Parents.com. Keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram.

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