Attorney General Releases Consumer Safety Tips to Guard Against Online Piracy and Identity Theft During the Holiday
MD ( Nov. 23, 2010) - With the holiday shopping season upon us, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler is warning Marylanders to beware of unscrupulous people selling their counterfeit or pirated goods online. Many times, they sell these items on websites that look legitimate, accepting credit cards and decorating the site with corporate advertisements; however, the “amazing” deals may be illegitimate.
“In the days before the Internet, the sale and distribution of counterfeit and pirated goods took place on street corners and in back alleys,” said Attorney General Gansler. “Today's online marketplace, however, has few obvious back alleys. Through counterfeiting and piracy of intellectual property, these thieves are committing highway robbery on a global scale.”
Counterfeiters and pirates with basic web design skills can set up online storefronts that look as authentic as those operated by legitimate enterprises. Simple coding, and even cutting and pasting, allows them to display on their websites corporate advertisements, government logos, seemingly secured forms of payment, and fraudulent documentation to fake their authenticity. These websites are highly deceptive to consumers, who believe they are buying legitimate goods. When consumers' online purchases facilitate identity theft and the spread of spyware and malware, and when the goods purchased are bogus pharmaceuticals, medical devices, or otherwise dangerous products, the harm from the deception is compounded in troubling ways.
Attorney General Gansler's tips to avoid becoming a victim of online piracy or counterfeit goods:
- If it's too good to be true…it probably is. Use your common sense. If you think something is fishy with the website, it very well may be an illegitimate company. Look out for sites with poor quality photos, spelling mistakes and lack of terms. If you are purchasing items from an auction site, see how many identical products they have available – for example, if they have too many of an expensive couture handbag, the handbags are probably fake. Avoid websites offering unlimited downloads of music or movies, or offering mixed versions of songs.
- Look for Secure Websites. Shop from online sites that display “https://” rather than “http//” in the address bar. Also look for a padlock image at the bottom of the browser. These indicate the website is secure, and has a safe encrypted connection. Sites that do not have secure connections are not storing customer data in a secure manner.
- Authorized Retail Sites. Many companies have lists on their websites or product packaging of sites where you can buy their goods. These are sites that are considered authorized online retail stores, and you are guaranteed to purchase a legitimate product. If you are uncertain that a site is selling genuine products, ask the retailer where they got the goods and for other verifiable information.
- Product Shipping. Unfortunately, many illegitimate goods may look genuine, and unless you are a professional working at the company in question, you may not be able to tell the difference. However, look for the small details. Are the “use by” dates missing or expired? Are the safety seals broken or missing? Did it come with the appropriate warranty information? Is there anything unusual about the packaging?
- Prescriptions. Be extra careful when ordering prescription drugs online. Only buy drugs from a reputable pharmacy. If you purchase medicine from a website you haven't used before, compare the new drugs to your current ones – do they match up in size, shape, color and taste? Are you experiencing any new side effects after taking a dosage? You may also contact your pharmacist or the manufacturer to determine if the new vendor is a legitimate company. Remember, all online pharmacies located in the United States must be licensed by the state board of pharmacy where the online vendor is located. Check https://license.mdbop.org/verification/veri/searchEstablishment.asp for a list of pharmacies licensed in Maryland.
More information is available in the Consumer's Edge Issue #142, “Online Piracy Protection: Navigating Dangerous Waters,” at http://www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer/142.pdf.
For more information on the featured topics, consumers should contact the Office of the Attorney General at 410-576-6300 or toll-free at 1-888-743-0023. They may also visit the Attorney General's website at www.oag.state.md.us.
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