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Dec. 18, 2020

Ask the Expert: Counterfeit products and COVID-19

Jay Kennedy

"Ask the Expert" articles provide information and insights from MSU scientists, researchers and scholars about national and global issues, complex research and general-interest subjects based on their areas of academic expertise and study. They may feature historical information, background, research findings, or offer tips.

Jay Kennedy is an assistant professor in the School of Criminal Justice with a joint appointment in the Center for Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection. Much of Kennedy’s research in the anti-counterfeiting space focuses on social and commercial impacts of counterfeit products; he also serves as a monthly contributor to Forbes.


1. It has been 10 months since the start of the pandemic. Is counterfeit PPE something to be worried about and, if so, why?

Counterfeit PPE continues to be a threat. We may not hear much about it now because most people are using cloth face masks, yet supplies of legitimate PPE are still low. It will take some time for manufacturers to replenish their supplies of PPE to pre-COVID-19 levels and counterfeiters will continue to take advantage of the crisis to put fake products in the market. Just because we are not warning about the dangers of counterfeit PPE does not mean that this threat has gone away.


2. The FDA and other government authorities have issued warnings about the dangers of COVID-19 medications for sale online. Is this something the public should be concerned about?

The public should be vigilant about fake COVID-19 medication schemes. It is always best to follow government guidance, talk to your doctor or other healthcare provider and remember that the coronavirus vaccine and virus treatments are not sold online. The FDA has a website dedicated to informing consumers about COVID-19 fraud schemes. To find information about schemes that have been identified and to report suspicious products found online, visit the FDA website.


3. Since the pandemic started, many people have switched over to ordering prescription medications online. Is this safe to do?

Yes it is, but you must be vigilant about your choices. The unfortunate reality of online pharmacies is that many sell substandard or fake medications. The risk of receiving counterfeit prescription medications increases when you visit unlicensed pharmacies. Before you buy a prescription medication from an online pharmacy, you should first verify the site is a licensed pharmacy. Consumers can visit one of two websites to verify the legitimacy of an online pharmacy.


4. In addition to ordering medications online, another way people are avoiding stores is by shopping on Amazon and eBay. What should people be aware of as they continue to shop on these sites?

We are all doing more shopping online these days, and data suggests that we will continue to shop online even after the virus has passed. Counterfeiters know this and have positioned themselves on e-commerce platforms and social media sites. It is important to know that shopping online can be safe — just be aware of certain cues that may signal a product is illegitimate. Look to buy from the brand owner rather than an unknown third-party seller. If the price is too good to be true, it is likely a bad deal. Finally, if a seller on an e-commerce platform has products for sale but the legitimate manufacturer is out of stock, be wary of buying from the e-commerce seller.


5. How can consumers protect themselves from bogus ads that claim to treat COVID-19 symptoms?

Unfortunately there is no way to completely block these ads from coming across your social media feeds or to your inbox. The best way to protect yourself from these scams is to delete the message. COVID-19 treatments are not advertised online, and the vaccine is not available through online channels or distributors.


Counterfeiters have begun to use direct messages and social media advertisements to trick people into falling for their schemes. Again, protect yourself by speaking with your health care provider about your concerns and seeking proper medical treatment should you begin to experience symptoms.


To learn more about how counterfeit products affect consumers and how to avoid them while shopping online, check out the A-CAPP Center webinar with the College of Social Science: Shopping Smart and Safe Online — A Chat With MSU Experts On Fake Products.        



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