Generation Fake …. Beauty and the counterfeit beast

The beauty industry is huge; we are undoubtedly a society that love to look after ourselves and our image. Add a global pandemic to the mix with no hairdressers, barbers or beauticians open and it’s not surprising that DIY beauty product sales have boomed in the last year. It’s been a difficult time for businesses, but this hasn’t stopped fakes appearing for sale online. Whether it’s hair straighteners and shavers or fake tan and lashes, they’re just a click away from being delivered to your door. But are they genuine? Fake beauty products have never been so sophisticated, and it has become even more difficult for the savviest shopper to spot a fake.

The ugly truth behind fake beauty products

Unscrupulous counterfeiters have used COVID-19 to cash in on the industry and sell illicit products, creating huge safety concerns.  Statistics from the UK Intellectual Property Office’s IP Crime and Enforcement Report state that 10,162 cosmetic products and a staggering 37,078 perfume products were seized by Border Force and Trading Standards in the UK in 2019. These were the products that were stopped, but what about the ones that may have slipped through?

Fakes bring huge risks not just for brands but also for customers. Counterfeit products have not been put through tough safety checks or testing or been manufactured in safe, monitored conditions. There are horror stories of victims who have their lips sealed together after using fake lipsticks and receiving burns and rashes to their skin due to fake products containing toxic chemicals. This is not just harmful for customers but is also damaging to a brand’s reputation and can cause a loss in sales and customer confidence.

In the past it may have been easier to spot counterfeit items with obvious dodgy packaging, spelling errors and blurry images on product or website pages. However, counterfeiters adapt and have become highly sophisticated. With advances in technology, it’s easy to manufacture copycat packaging, use copyright theft to utilize a brand’s imagery, sell via social media and create fake websites. Counterfeit beauty products can get through many channels into the hand of the most discerning customer.

Websites to watch

No selling platform is 100% safe from being infiltrated by counterfeit products. Many have set up programmes and have reporting mechanisms to manage intellectual property infringement, such as Amazon’s Brand Registry and Project Zero. However, fakes can still rear their ugly head; it’s quite straightforward for someone to set themselves up as a third-party seller (3P) or Marketplace seller on Amazon. Even for brands that are first party sellers (1P), where Amazon is the legal holder and owner of the inventory, when there are so many brands being sold with tight delivery deadlines, monitoring genuine products versus fakes is difficult.

The process of piggybacking can also occur. This is where illegitimate sellers can use the same item number as a popular product to resell items or sell counterfeit ones. As a result, their listing can appear near a legitimate one and look genuine. If these sellers get caught and shut down, then another shop can easily pop up in the near future under another name.

Online selling platforms such as eBay, Alibaba, AliExpress, Wish and DHGate are other sites that should be treated with caution. Like Amazon, not every brand can be monitored or even be known to the marketplace which makes removing fake listings a constant challenge.

Heard of the grey market?

The grey market is where goods have not been authorised for re-sale by the brand and become available for sale using methods outside the brand’s usual distribution methods. Online platforms are an easy way to sell and quickly distribute popular beauty brands across the world, sometimes with heavy discounts.

The grey market is problematic for the beauty industry as it impacts the integrity of their brand as well as pricing structure and profits. The ‘white market’ defines goods sold officially, however, the grey market, like the counterfeit or black market, is difficult to monitor and enforce. It explains why cheaper priced ‘genuine’ beauty goods sometimes end up being sold in bulk on online marketplaces or in a local bargain store.

For example, buying the premium shampoo your hairdresser recommends directly from the salon may be more expensive, however you know you are buying a genuine item that has been sold via correct channels. If you purchase the same item via an online marketplace at a reduced price, even if it was originally bought by a legitimate distributor, it may not be the same quality, and may possibly have been in a warehouse for months or years and passed its shelf life. Worst case, it could even be a counterfeit, watered down with a different smell and consistency and bring possible health risks.

Fake products on Social Media

Whilst social media can benefit brands, with their influencers and fans helping to build hype and a cult following, the likes of Facebook, YouTube and Instagram can be an issue as they are another channel that counterfeiters can access. On Facebook Marketplace a ‘replica’ luxury brand item being sold can be easy to spot and on Instagram Stories and Facebook Live scammers can quickly post video clips to advertise fakes and send viewers links to purchase. In many cases, they won’t show the packaging, and to the untrained eye, the unboxed product can look real. They may also use copyrighted images or videos on their pages which convinces the buyer it’s legitimate. There are also dedicated groups on social media set up to target specific demographics and knowingly encourage the buying of fakes.

Social media is another area of growth for counterfeiters, particularly with the likes of TikTok, which has taken off during the pandemic. Sadly, it’s not all videos of cute animals or fun dance routines, as TikTok is another way for opportunists to promote counterfeits. There have been reports of videos and virtual tours of factories selling their counterfeit wares in China being used to attract new distributors, as they are online for such a limited time it makes them almost untouchable. Another trend is the use of sponsored ads selling fake goods, often leading the buyer to a copycat website or a random website which may only appear online for a short time.

The new social media warrior

Whilst social media is being used in abundance to flog fake wares it’s not all bad news. Social media is being used by many for good. There are many loyal brand followers who have taken to social media platforms to warn others about fake goods and what to look out for. YouTube has an abundance of helpful videos and tutorials with brands being analysed under a fine-tooth comb by social media vloggers who want to help spread the message about fakes. Similar videos can be found by vloggers on TikTok, Instagram and Facebook which is undoubtedly helpful to brand owners and consumers.

Don’t be tempted to fake it

Counterfeit goods may seem harmless and a way to save a few pounds. However, fake beauty goods can be extremely dangerous; the reason they are cheap is because they have not been put through rigorous safety testing like the genuine product. Copy-cat versions of make-up or perfumes have been known to be made up of dangerous chemicals and materials.  Fakes can put you at risk and cause serious damage.

Check out all our great advice and tips on reporting a scam at https://bogusbuster.org/reporting-a-scam/

Stay safe when shopping online.