OPINION I The dangers of counterfeit toys – and how to fight back against the fakers

The explosion of online retail sites, coupled with toy shortages, during the Covid pandemic led many consumers to unknowingly purchase counterfeit goods – toys that are not simply sub-standard, but in many cases, pose a threat to children’s safety. Here, Rachel Jones, CEO and founder of SnapDragon Monitoring, a company that helps protect brands from online threats and infringements, explains what toy manufacturers can do to safeguard their reputations and revenue from fraudsters, and the red flags consumers should look for when purchasing toys online. 

“In 2020 it was estimated that the global toy market was worth a staggering $94.7 billion, with the industry experiencing an explosive growth of 13 percent since 2010. This immense figure turns the toy industry into one of the world’s most profitable markets, so it’s not surprising that the fraudsters and counterfeiters want to swipe a slice of this lucrative pie.

Fraudsters have hijacked popular toys, making illegitimate versions in a bid to make their own money, either by tricking people into thinking they are buying an authentic product, or by enticing people to buy the fake versions through seemingly too good to be true prices.

In the last two years the COVID-19 pandemic has changed shopping habits, with a massive shift towards online as the primary platform for consumers to purchase goods. With schools closed and the stay-at-home orders in place, toy sales have spiked as households desperately tried to keep children entertained and educated. The sector is still subject to plenty of challenges as the pandemic has created countervailing forces – with demand you require supply. While food and fuel shortages were first hit by delays in manufacturing and distribution chains, toys were also a casualty. Toy shortages resulted in consumers visiting obscure websites and unwittingly purchasing counterfeit toys. In fact, a study by the British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA) found that out of 255 toys sold by third parties on online marketplaces, such as eBay and Amazon, 88 percent were illegal to sell in the UK and shockingly, almost half (48 percent) were unsafe for a child to play with.

Counterfeit products were originally linked with the luxury goods industry, but today scammers will fake almost anything. While it’s unlikely a fake luxury handbag will harm a consumer, a counterfeit toy could be a potential health and safety hazard.

Scammers are good. At first glance it can be very difficult to tell the difference between a genuine item and a copy-cat. Knock-off toys use brand names and similar marks to trick the consumers into believing they are purchasing an authentic product. But these toys often do not comply with safety standards; they may contain toxic chemicals or be a choking or fire hazard. Legitimate, safe products will be rigorously tested by the manufacturer to make sure the toy is safe to use for the age grade it is given.

Given the possible consequences of a counterfeit toy, it is also alarming to hear that a recent survey found that 65% of parents would buy a knock-off toy if their first choice was not available, and 63 percent said they’d buy one if the price was right.

So, what can consumers do to protect themselves from scammers?

Shoppers should always buy from retailers that are well known and long established. Read the product reviews – remember, positive reviews can be faked, so check the bad reviews out too. What else is the seller selling?  If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is. Significant discounts on retail prices can also be an indication of forgery, so check on the brand’s website for a price comparison. Check the tags – labels that are mandatory but are commonly missing from counterfeits are a CE Mark, electrical safety marks (if it’s an electrical toy), the age grade, warning signs and safety instructions. What is the packaging or lack of packaging the product comes in? A toy that comes in a plastic bag with no labels or instruction manual is a risk indicator. The manufacturer’s name and head office details should be clearly displayed somewhere on the product.

The increasing presence of unsafe and counterfeit toys in the marketplace is a real threat to genuine businesses. “Consumers are buying from companies they believe to be trusted brands, not realising they are in fact falling victim to unscrupulous third-party sellers,” say the BTHA. Any exposure to counterfeit products can adversely affect trust in a brand and research shows both consumers who knowingly, and unwittingly, have bought a knock-off good think less of a brand that is associated with forgeries.

So, what are the best steps for toy manufacturers to protect their brand against counterfeiters? Firstly, it is recommended to have technology in place to monitor ecommerce sites, social media and the internet as a whole to detect fakes of products. If a fake is found, contact the site and ask for it to be removed. Toy brands should also engage with customers on the risks counterfeits can create and clearly communicate where genuine products are sold. Businesses are also advised to register their intellectual property (logos, brand names, design rights and patents) in every trading region and certainly in China – from where most issues still emanate (not all but certainly the majority for the toy trade).

Children’s toys should be about joy and discovery, and consumers need to be confident that safety is an inherent feature. Genuine brands deliver this – it’s the fakes that can do so much more damage than simply confuse the consumer.

Businesses should protect all they can in terms of intellectual property, while consistently monitoring for fakes and copycats online. As soon as any are found, they must be communicated to their supply chain and customers, and brands must also keep faith that if they do suffer counterfeits, action can be taken to prevent their sale, at least online. This is something the brand can do themselves, without undue cost and persistence and tenacity in terms of keeping on top of fraudulent online sellers will, and does, win the day.”

For more information on how SnapDragon Monitoring can help safeguard your business against counterfeiters, visit snapdragon-ip.com


About Tessa Clayton

A former Chief Sub of Red magazine, Tessa Clayton is the Digital Editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. As a freelance journalist she specialised in writing about parenting and family life, and has contributed to a wide variety of publications and websites including Tesco online, Mother & Baby, Livingetc, Junior, Boots Health & Beauty, Practical Parenting and babycentre.co.uk. Get in touch at tessa.clayton@biz-media.co.uk

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