Skip to main content
Welcome to the cutting edge of safety science—Learn more about our rebrand.
  • Feature Story

Are holiday deals too good to be true?

UL's brand protection division takes action against counterfeiters this holiday season

December 8, 2015

It’s a reasonable question for a holiday shopper to ask, “Is this deal too good to be true?” If so, then there may be more than what meets the consumer’s eye.

Throughout the next 30 days, millions of shoppers will turn to brick-and-mortar retailers and online sites to find the best deals and sales for their holiday shopping. Specifically, the National Retail Federation’s latest consumer survey* found that 135.8 million consumers had planned to shop Thanksgiving weekend and 183.8 million people planned to shop on Cyber Monday. However, millions of shoppers are unaware that the products they purchase could be unsafe.

“Price seems to be the overall motivating factor for most consumers. In essence, consumers who choose to purchase items from sites or stores that could potentially be fraudulent are taking their safety into their own hands,” said Jason Daniels, senior investigation manager for UL’s Global Security & Brand Protection team. “Goods purchased could indeed be counterfeit, not UL certified or tested to an appropriate standard.”

That’s why UL is investigating products online and at small shops across the nation this holiday season. Trained to identify fraud in products and the use of the UL Mark, UL experts are finding mismarked or potentially counterfeit products and taking appropriate action against fraudulent retailers both online and in stores.

Online Auctions and Site Takedowns

In preparation for Cyber Monday, UL’s Global Security & Brand Protection (GSBP) team participated in an effort with the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR) to highlight online takedowns of sites selling counterfeit products.

To do this, UL searches online venues for infringing products and conducts a test purchase to verify the authenticity of the items. Upon identifying a product as counterfeit, UL works with the auction site to have the listing eliminated from the website or investigations are taken for further actions.

“Many websites look alike and to the unknowing individual the price of the item is the overall motivating factor for a purchase,” said Daniels. “A consumer should research a website to check its validity. There are numerous ways to do this through specific search engines available for this sole purpose.  Such searches can expose the country of origin, how long the website has been in existence, if it is possibly a high-risk site to place an order, and more.”

UL provides the IPR with a list of known sites and online sellers taken down through past enforcement efforts. This year so far, UL has identified 25 fraudulent auction sites running across the globe.

Investigating Fraudulent Retailers

UL’s GSBP team is also taking its proactive investigation to flea markets and any type of business or entity where the sale of counterfeit goods is suspected. On the ground, experts find a good that is mismarked or counterfeit, they purchase the item and send a photo of it to UL investigators.

“Nothing is immune to counterfeiting,” said Daniels. “We’re identifying who is out there distributing goods and misusing the UL Mark.”

For years, UL has had service providers going into stores to combat counterfeiting. For this annual holiday initiative, this is one of the first years UL has searched products online in a stepped-up effort to combat counterfeiting.

“The retail world is changing, creating new ways for fraudulent retailers to sell their goods. UL will continue to be proactive and stay ahead of the curve in anti-counterfeiting investigative tactics,” continued Daniels. “Next year, we’re hoping that the number of site takedowns and retailers will double and make it harder for them to distribute unsafe products to consumers, especially during the holiday season.”

* Find 2016 statistics on holiday shopping here.