Are Unsafe Toys Being Sold Online? What You Need to Know

Get the facts about a new report that's cautioning parents about potentially unsafe toys being sold online.
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A new report from the WashPIRG Foundation—an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest—is warning parents in light of the holiday shopping season that recalled toys can still be found for purchase online. Scary, right? But hold on a minute: The Toy Industry Association (TIA) in turn warns that parents shouldn't take the report at face value.

Confused? Here's what you need to know.

WashPIRG's report, called "Trouble in Toyland," is the group's 31st annual investigation on hazardous toys and includes toys recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), such as a remote-controlled flying toy that poses a potential overheating risk, and a pencil case that contains magnets that are an ingestion hazard. The full report with a complete list of the recalled toys is available here.

"We should be able to trust that the toys we buy are safe. However, until that's the case, consumers should understand two things: First, not all recalls may be well-publicized so you should check your house for previously recalled toys, and second, some toys that are recalled may still be available online," Bruce Speight, the organization's director, said in a news release.

But the TIA insists the report is "misleading," and "fear-mongering," and points out that researchers do not test the toys they claim are unsafe in the report. Steve Pasierb, TIA president & CEO, further explained this position to Parents.com, saying, "The toy community remains steadfast in its year-round commitment to creating safe toys and games that bring joy and learning to children all over the world. However, each holiday season, a small group of non-governmental organizations seeks to generate publicity and donations for themselves with their alleged 'unsafe' toy reports."

These reports are not backed up with credible, scientific data, Pasierb says. Instead, they needlessly frighten families during an otherwise joyful time of year. "In fact, all toys sold in the U.S. are highly regulated 365 days a year by the federal government and must meet more than 100 safety requirements," he adds.

Instead of turning to the report, the TIA recommends that parents use PlaySafe.org as a trusted resource on safe toys and play for their children.

Regardless of which site you choose to place your faith in, both organizations have provided some general guidelines you can follow to help make sure the toys you purchase this holiday season are safe, and that your child plays safely:

1. Follow the age-grading on toy packaging. The age-grading on a toy isn't about how smart a child is—it's an important safety guidance that's based on the developmental skills and abilities of children at a given age and the specific features of a toy.

2. Read through the toy instructions carefully first. It's tempting for kids to skip the instructions with new toys and dive right in, but reading through instructions ensures that all parts are secured and toys are used in the proper way. Playing the wrong way or using a toy for something other than its intended use can pose a danger.

3. Check for small items or other hazards in your child's play space. Take note of what else is in a child's play environment that may pose a risk. Choking hazards posed by batteries, magnets, and other small items are a leading cause of injury to kids.

4. Look for toy chests or toy boxes with hinges that keep the lid open so they don't fall on little fingers.

5. With new toys being added to toy shelves or toy closets, it's also important to make sure bookcases, bureaus, and shelves are secured with safety latches and mounted properly to prevent injury from tipped furniture.

6. Subscribe to email recall updates from the CPSC and other U.S. government safety agencies available at recalls.gov.

7. Examine toys carefully for hazards before purchase – and don't trust that they are safe just because they are on a store shelf. Check the CPSC recall database at CPSC.gov before buying toys online.

8. Report unsafe toys or toy-related injuries to the CPSC at saferproducts.gov.

9. Put small parts, or toys broken into small parts, out of reach. Regularly check that toys appropriate for your older children are not left within reach of children who still put things in their mouths.

10. Exercise caution when purchasing a toy at a flea market, garage sale, second-hand, or thrift store, since vendors may not be monitoring for recalled products.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of coffee.

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