Within international, European and national legislation, one can find various definitions for counterfeit products. The EU Regulation (EC) No 608/2013 defines counterfeit products as goods that are the subject of an act infringing the trademark without the authorisation to use such trademark; goods that are the subject of an act infringing a geographical indication in the Member State where the products are found; and goods with any packaging or labelling that are subject of an act infringing a trademark or a geographical indication.
When buying counterfeit products, consumers would be exposed to certain risks, linked mostly with health, safety, the environment and unfair competition. For example, counterfeit cosmetics and perfumes often sold online may be considered as high-risk products and can be the reason behind many health issues, such as allergies.
Medicines are also one of the products most counterfeited.
In order to fight against fake medicines, the European Commission has developed a logo for pharmacies operating legally online in any EU Member State.
Counterfeit products may pose a threat to the safety of consumers. For example, an inferior, counterfeit replacement part in a car (such as airbags) may have an impact on the safety of the vehicle. If a product is safe and complies with all EU standards, the product will be given the CE mark.
Medicines are also one of the products most counterfeited
However, sometimes counterfeiters copy this mark with just a slight difference. Moreover, companies that manufacture counterfeit goods are not always aware of the serious impact this will have on the environment. When counterfeit products do not comply with the imposed health codes, safety regulations and environmental law, this makes it possible to sell goods at low prices. Due to these cheap prices, genuine companies will lose out their consumers to counterfeiters.
The EU has set out various laws to protect the consumers against counterfeit products. For instance, EU customs administrations have the authority to detain or even destroy counterfeit products that are bought online by consumers.
The ECC-Net has issued an online brochure with the following consumers tips on how to avoid buying counterfeit products:
One should always identify and localise the trader before placing an order on an internet website;
The company’s name, geographical address and contact details should be available on the website so that it is easier for the consumer to check whether the company can be easily reached in case of any problems;
Consumers should also search for experiences of other buyers. They may enter the name of an online shop into an internet search engine and this will lead to internet forums where they can read reviews. However, one must still be careful, as certain comments, especially positive ones, may be fake.
The trust mark should also help consumers identify if the website can be trusted. Under EU consumer and marketing laws, it is prohibited for a product to have such a mark without obtaining the necessary authorisation for it. Every website should also have clear and correct information on its website about consumer rights, such as information about the right of withdrawal. If such information is missing, one should be suspicious. Another tip mentions the importance of using a secure means of payment, such as paying by credit card and avoiding money transfers.
A consumer living in an EU Member State and buying from a seller within a Member State or from a seller who is targeting EU consumers is protected by European laws. On the other hand, if the seller is located outside the EU, it may be difficult for the consumer to enforce their rights.
If the consumer inadvertently purchases a counterfeit product, they are advised to complain with the seller in writing. If the problem remains unresolved, consumers may report the matter to the European Consumer Centre.
This information has been provided by the European Consumer Centre Malta. The ECC-Net is a European network consisting of 30 European Consumer Centres, representing all EU Member States as well as Iceland and Norway. The network is co-funded by the European Commission and the EU Member States. In addition to helping consumers in case of a complaint or dispute, members of the ECC-Net engage in joint projects to investigate specific business sectors. ECC Malta is hosted by the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority. ECC Malta can be contacted on e-mail ecc.malta@mccaa .org.mt, by calling 2122 1901 or by visiting its office at ‘Consumer House’, No. 47A, South Street, Valletta.
Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.
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