When online shopping it’s important to take steps to protect yourself from fraud. A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found a high prevalence of counterfeit items on popular online marketplaces and auction sites. Investigators purchased items listed as Urban Decay cosmetics, Yeti travel mugs, Apple phone chargers and Nike Air Jordan shoes – all advertised as new, brand-name items sold by third-party sellers with customer ratings above 90 percent. Twenty of 47 items purchased were counterfeit.

Counterfeit products not only cost consumers money, but these products can also pose health risks if they use lead or other unsafe components. Counterfeit electronics also risk fires and “lethal electrocution,” according to the report.

“The selling of counterfeit products in on the rise and it can be hard to tell when products are fake. Counterfeiters will use stock photos of real products,” said Mike Hill, online investigation manager at UL.

Hill offered these tips:

1. On well-known online marketplaces or auction sites, buy directly from the brand itself, if you can. On these sites, you know who the seller is, so try to buy directly from the brand.

2. Compare prices with other reputable sites. Do a product search to see what other sites are charging. It should be similar in price.

3. Look at the quantity a buyer has in stock.

“If the quantity is unlimited or there’s a huge quantity, that’s something to pay attention to,” Hill said. “Most legitimate sellers will have limited stock.”

4. Research the buyer, including looking at their ratings and feedback.

“Use common sense,” Hill said. “A lot of times, you can tell fake feedback. For instance, something generic like, ‘It’s the best product on the planet,’ is not a legitimate review. Take a look at how long ago feedback was left. Watch for someone who buys several items from sellers that give instant automatic feedback. They use this type of feedback to appear legitimate, sell some counterfeit products and then shut down their account.”

When researching the buyer, also look at where the product is located, the refund and warranty policy and shipping prices, because sometimes dishonest sellers make a product look like a good deal by inflating shipping charges.

5. If you’re unfamiliar with a “deals” website, examine it carefully. Things to watch for:

  • Is the primary email address on the website a Gmail or other free email account? That might show that the website owner isn’t committed to the domain, Hill said.
  • Look for bad grammar, typos and other errors. Watch for cookie cutter sites, where the fraudster puts up several websites and then makes mistakes, like getting the names/logos wrong, or leaving the site partially unfinished with dummy text, blank pages, a garbled privacy policy page and/or broken links.
  • Watch for fraud sites that try to copy the legitimate site and purposely misspell the domain.
  • Do a site search with “site:nameofdomain” to see what the search engines indexed.
  • Check when the website was created. If it’s less than 30 days, it might be best to pass up the site, Hill said.
  • Be wary of unsolicited offers and avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails, which can go to sites that look like the real brand site but are fraudulent.
  • Look for “https” in the website’s address, which transmits your data in an encrypted form. Don’t give personal information or credit card data on a site without it.

6. If a listing claims to be “legitimate” and “genuine,” it’s probably not, Hill said.

“Counterfeiters use ‘authentic’ and ‘genuine’ over and over again in listings. If they feel the need to defend their authenticity, it’s probably fake,” Hill said.

7. Don’t make online purchases with your debit card, check, cash or wire transfer, which can be hard to recover. Also, consider using the one-time-use credit card numbers that many credit cards offer customers for online purchases.

8. If something seems off, don’t make the purchase.

“If something looks risky, stay away from it,” Hill said. “Once your information is out there, it’s out there. A lot of times these fraudsters will use your information to make other fraudulent purchases.”

9. When the product you purchased arrives, examine it. Look for misspellings on the packaging.

If it’s counterfeit or not what you ordered, a lot of legitimate online auction sites and online marketplaces will take it back, which is a good reason to shop from established sites.

“Report it as a suspect product not only to get your money back but also so the online marketplace/auction site can investigate and shut down the seller,” Hill said.

If you purchased from a site that doesn’t offer buyer protection, contact your credit card company and tell them that you believe the product is counterfeit, as most credit cards offer buyer protection.

Online shopping can save a lot of time and money, just be sure to use these steps to protect yourself.