Q: What should consumers know when shopping for gifts during the holiday season and beyond?
A: The pandemic fueled online shopping as more Americans turned to e-commerce to purchase everyday goods and gifts. Estimates project record-setting online shopping this holiday season, with sales reaching $207 billion in online sales. As the U.S. economy struggles to navigate bottlenecks and low inventory in the supply chain, concerns about slow shipping and late deliveries aren’t the only issues consumers need to watch. Law enforcement and consumer watchdogs are warning shoppers to be on the lookout for counterfeit and fake goods. Counterfeit and pirated goods rip off consumers to the tune of $500 billion every year. And it’s not just hitting luxury brands and retailers. Fake goods pose dangerous risks to consumer health, from sham baby formula to faulty batteries and bad cosmetics. When shopping for goods online, don’t be bashful about being skeptical. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Always trust your instincts. A bargain isn’t worth it if the product being purchased is counterfeit or unsafe. Before sharing sensitive information and financial information online, be sure the website uses a safe and secure transaction portal. Specifically, look for a padlock symbol and the https:// in your browser. That’s an important safety tool that indicates your payments are protected. For example, illicit websites may install malware that can skim your credit card information and passwords stored on your hard drive. Consumer watchdogs also recommend buyers check labels and packaging for broken or non-existent safety seals, tainted products, false warranty information and expired dates on perishable products. Gifting and receiving is a cherished tradition in America. I encourage shoppers to protect yourselves and loved ones this holiday season. Don’t blindly fork over your hard-earned money and savings to an online portal or e-retailer without due diligence to ensure it’s a trusted business.
Q: What should consumers do if they’ve been duped by counterfeit goods?
A: Don’t just chalk it up to a hard lesson learned. Take action that can help others from getting fleeced. Report unsafe counterfeit products to the U.S. Customs Border Protection or the National IPR Center. Or, report suspicious activity by calling (800) Be Alert. The National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center works to protect Americans from transnational criminal organizations and combat intellectual property (IP) theft. As the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, I use my legislative and oversight authority to keep pressure on faithful enforcement of our nation’s anti-fraud laws and consumer protection tools. Putting teeth into trade enforcement and holding federal agencies accountable are a couple ways I work on behalf of Iowans to protect their welfare and hard-earned money. Getting swindled by online piracy not only hurts consumers, it creates an unfair situation for legitimate retailers who play by the rules, jump through regulatory hoops and pay taxes to create jobs and support local economies. Bad actors infiltrate every sector of the economy, from pharmaceuticals, to entertainment, electronic goods and apparel. Consider the disappointment when cyber criminals swindle sports fans by selling fake tickets to a Big 10 football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City or to see some basketball magic at Hilton Coliseum in Ames. It’s a growing problem I’m working to address on behalf of Iowans. I’m co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill that takes aim at online sales of stolen, counterfeit and dangerous products. It directs online retail marketplaces that include third-party sellers of consumer products to verify the identity of those sellers. In cities across America, we’re seeing a surge in organized crime sprees referred to as “smash and grab” targeting brick-and-mortar stores. I’m working to protect consumers from organized retail crime rings that sell stolen or counterfeit items in bulk online. Improving transparency will help consumers be savvy shoppers and discourage illicit sales. Tis the season to stop online grinches from taking advantage of consumer trust and strengthen faith in the marketplace, online and on Main Street.