Corporate Responsibility

How to identify product scams online

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Protect your wallet – and your health.

A brand-name watch at half the price charged by your local jeweler? Headache pills that cost a third less than in the pharmacy? The internet offers a wide variety of attractive offers. It’s annoying when the product turns out to be a fake after you unpack it. And in the case of medications, those deals could even be risky.

You better take a good look.

You better take a good look.

Online shopping is convenient, fast, and often very economical. Unfortunately, scammers often turn the biggest downside of online shopping to their own advantage. You can’t pick up the product and look at it before you order. What’s more, many counterfeit products are such cunning imitations that they cannot be easily identified. 

Protect yourself from scams

  • Think twice about the price!
    A top designer’s hottest bag for less than 100 euros? That big bottle of brand-name perfume for 30 euros? Don’t be dazzled by these offers. You should always be suspicious of prices that are much lower than those of competitors. 
  • Visit the manufacturer’s page.
    Luxury brands, in particular, either do not sell online, or only through approved merchants. That is why you should visit the manufacturer’s website and gather information. If you read there that they only conduct sales in brick-and-mortar stores, the online offer can only be a fake, or at least a product from a dubious source. If the manufacturer lists trustworthy merchants on its pages, shop there. 
  • Pay attention to the language of the merchant,
    starting with ads that appear on search engine pages.
    “Fantastic deal” may sound promising, but it is also a warning sign. If the product description does not go into detail about the item and instead explains at length why it is possible to offer that price, that is another sign of potential fraud.
  • Take a good look at the merchant.
    Check the shop for legitimacy. Read ratings from other customers. Above all, check the address of the company headquarters. If doubts arise even at this point, don’t buy.
  • Only use payment methods that make it easy to cancel the payment. 
    Use the payment methods that offer you the greatest possible protection as a purchaser – for example, credit card, PayPal, or direct debit. In cases of uncertainty, you can get your money back again.
  • When unpacking the goods, look for signs of counterfeiting.
    On their websites, manufacturers of luxury goods often offer a list of distinguishing marks by which you can recognize their authenticity. But even without such indicators, counterfeit products can be identified with a close look. For example, the packaging is much simpler than expected; the printing looks faded, or there may even be spelling errors.
  • If you have become the target of a scam,
    try immediately to get your money back and cancel your purchase.

    That can be done within 14 days. Contact the operator of the marketplace (eBay, Amazon etc.) if you shopped with a merchant. You should also contact the police and the manufacturer of the original. Incidentally, as the purchaser of a fake, you need not fear any legal repercussions. 

Keep your eyes open when purchasing medications

Fakes are annoying in the case of bags, watches, perfume, or jeans, but they are dangerous in the case of medications. Counterfeit drugs may contain:

  • no active ingredient at all,
  • the wrong active ingredient,
  • the wrong amount of active ingredients, or
  • an expired active ingredient.

Under certain circumstances, there may even be hazardous substances mixed in. At best, a counterfeit medication will have no effect at all. But if you have to take a medication regularly for a chronic or serious condition, you are putting your health on the line by ingesting a counterfeit drug. 

It is not at all easy to identify fake medications. After all, you cannot check the ingredients yourself. For this reason, look for these signs:

  • Check the manufacture and expiration date: Do the dates on the exterior package match those on the interior?
  • Check the manufacturer’s website and compare the packaging with the pictures there. Manufacturers also frequently mention distinguishing marks that help you verify authenticity. The manufacturer also shows the package insert online. Is the insert in your package any different? Perhaps it even includes spelling errors?
  • If you have purchased the medication before, does it have a different smell? Does anything else stand out?

If you have any doubts, it is better not to take the medication. Instead, take the package to the closest pharmacy. Ask the pharmacist to take a closer look at the product. Any pharmacist who feels responsible for his or her patients will do as you ask. 

If you want to buy medications online, look for these signs when choosing your provider:

  • Check whether the provider is listed with DIMDI (the German Institute of Medical Documentation and Information). Many mail-order pharmacies make it easier to check this by providing a corresponding trustmark on the homepage that links to more information.
  • Reputable mail-order pharmacies will not offer medications without a prescription if a prescription is required.

Further reading