Michael Hanson is the spokesperson for Buy Safe America Coalition, which represents retailers, consumer groups, manufacturers, intellectual property advocates, and law enforcement officials who support efforts to protect consumers and communities from the sale of counterfeit and stolen goods.
Consumers have increasingly turned to online platforms during the pandemic to buy the products they want and need. Nearly $1 out of every $5 spent on retail purchases during the first quarter of 2021 was spent online. While this is a convenience for many families, it does come with considerable risk because online marketplaces have unfortunately become a hotbed for counterfeit goods, which includes dangerous toys that put children in harm’s way. Today, too many sellers on third-party marketplaces pose as legitimate retailers, hiding behind fake screen names selling faulty knockoff versions of your child’s favorite toy.
Counterfeiters have become so adept at blending in on sites that it has become increasingly difficult for consumers to differentiate between legitimate and counterfeit products. Consumers who are largely unaware of the scope of the problem unknowingly purchase these products thinking they are held to the same high standards as toys sold by legitimate companies. According to The Toy Association, inadequate vetting of third-party sellers by marketplaces and inadequate transparency of seller information allow bad actors to anonymously sell non-compliant and potentially dangerous toys to unsuspecting parents and gift-givers.
What may at first appear to be a good deal could in fact be a faulty and illegitimate version of a product. Whether it is a hoverboard or magnetic putty containing dangerous rare earth magnets, these bogus items pose a considerable threat to children. Unfortunately, it is tricky for parents to identify these products as knockoffs when viewing them on their laptops or phone screens.
These defective and knockoff toys sold through e-commerce platforms fall short of the federal product safety standards that keep our children safe. Counterfeit toys have been known to have small parts that are easy to swallow, excess amounts of lead, and dangerous chemicals in both the coatings and packaging — components that no child should be exposed to.
Along with the glaring health and safety consequences, counterfeiting operations pose a serious threat to legitimate toy retailers here in the United States. Toy companies have always ensured that the products they sell to consumers meet and exceed all regulatory standards. When seedy actors sell counterfeit toys, they cut into the sales of these legitimate businesses and undermine the enduring relationships they have built with families.
The Buy Safe America Coalition — which is proud to call The Toy Association, the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, and several top-selling children’s toy companies as members — is urging federal lawmakers to pass the INFORM Consumers Act, bipartisan legislation that would require e-commerce platforms to verify their third-party sellers. Putting in place these important safeguards ensures that families will be better protected, and unscrupulous bad actors won’t be able to hide behind bogus screen names and make a living scamming consumers.
Families deserve to have a safe and transparent online shopping experience. By requiring marketplaces to verify their sellers, we can keep our youngest ones healthy and safe. Congress should make that a reality and pass the INFORM Consumers Act.