Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

As you rush to finish up your Christmas shopping, be sure to slow down and make sure you aren’t clicking on either a fake Web site or a Web site that sells fakes.

Copycat Web sites rip off genuine brands and mirror legitimate sites. Some are created by scammers who want your credit card information so they can go on their own shopping spree. Others are set up to sell counterfeit goods. If you’re looking for a bargain, you may end up on a dodgy site. And if you think it’s no big deal if you buy a knockoff as long as the price is low, you probably haven’t heard about perfume that contains urine and antifreezeexploding Sony Playstation controllers and child-labor horrors.

This past Cyber Monday, Nov. 29, federal law enforcement agents announced a crackdown that blocked 82 domain names of commercial sites that were used to peddle knockoff sports equipment, shoes, handbags, music and software.

“Whether it’s adulterated medicine that can kill you, bogus batteries that can burn you, or wannabe Guccis that simply wear out fast (though you may look stylish for a while), counterfeit merchandise is everywhere,” warns Consumer Reports. And it's not easy to tell a knockoff from a real deal; check out these photos from the BBC and CNBC.

Last year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection made 14,841 seizures of fake and pirated goods worth $261 billion, an all-time high.

Counterfeiting is not a victimless crime, says Chris Israel, U.S. coordinator for International Intellectual Property Enforcement. "People selling you a $20 purse aren't scrappy entrepreneurs," he told Consumer Reports. "That person is fronting for organized crime." Crime rings that are involved in counterfeiting, experts say, promote child and sweatshop labor and human trafficking.

And, of course, there’s the cost to legitimate business. Attorney General Rob McKenna co-chairs NAAG’s Intellectual Property Committee. In a 2008 All Consuming blog post, McKenna noted, “An industry study found that if we could reduce software piracy and counterfeiting by just 10 percent over four years nationally, we could create $41 billion of economic growth and add 32,000 jobs. That’s a major booster shot to cure today’s financial ills.”

How to shop safely:

  • Make sure your computer is protected against viruses and spyware, which can sometimes be transmitted by copycat sites.
  • Check our Internet Safety pages for tips on how to identify secure Web sites. At the minimum, the site should show https: when you are making a purchase and there should be a lock symbol in the lower corner of your screen.
  • Pay using a credit card, not a debit card. Remember, security logos such as PayPal may be fake.
  • Never click on a link in an unsolicited e-mail.
  • Always check that the Web site name is correct in the address bar.
  • Avoid buying from any online store that promises “too-good-to-be-true” prices.


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