Huge spike in fake Facebook ads selling rip-off clothing during coronavirus pandemic – how to spot them

SHOPPERS are being warned about fake clothes being sold via Facebook posts after a huge surge counterfeit items which are bought online.

Last year, 31 per cent of shoppers unintentionally bought fake products online – up from 24 per cent in 2018, according to research by Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG).

And 23 per cent of those items were bought through social media, either through a post or a sponsored advert.

A shop, under the name of Brand Store Clearance Online (left) impersonated the Monsoon Facebook page (right)

The group has found big high street names such as Clarks, Monsoon and Tommy Hilfiger had been impersonated in sponsored social media posts.

The adverts feature real photographs of retailers’ stock in the posts and also contain branded images.

But when you click through to the link it will take you to a scam website which looks the same as the retailers but has a different URL.

A targeted ad from the counterfeit goods website, Brand Store Clearance Online, is seen on Facebook

If unsuspecting shoppers click on the “Contact Us” section of the website, they will be led to other fraudulent domains.

One account, under the name of Brand Store Clearance Online, posted sponsored adverts on Facebook for Clarks and created a page for Monsoon.

Both shops have faced financial difficulty during lockdown, with Clarks announcing some of its stores will not reopen and Monsoon revealing 35 stores had closed for good with 545 jobs lost.

Phil Lewis from the Anti-Counterfeiting Group said: “Shopping in the midst of a pandemic means more people are opting to shop online from the safety of their own home.

“Shoppers need to make sure they double-check that what they are buying is not a counterfeit by reading consumer reviews, and confirming the payment credentials to make sure the items are being sold by an approved seller from the country they claim to be resident in.”

Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert, said: “The increase in the number of counterfeit goods being sold off the back of the coronavirus crisis is frightening.

Shoe retailer Clarks was also impersonated by the fake shop Brand Store Clearance Online

Facebook’s policy says that it reviews every advert before they are published on the website and fake goods are banned.

Facebook has confirmed that it will remove Brand Store Clearance Online Facebook page after The Sun flagged it.

A spokesman added: “Fraudulent activity is not tolerated on our platforms and we’re removing the page and ads brought to our attention.

“We continue to invest in people and technology to identify and remove this content, and we urge people to report any suspicious content to us.”

How to spot a dodgy website

The UK’s Anti-counterfeiting group (ACG) gives the following advice of what to look out for when purchasing goods through social media.

  •  Be alert. Scam websites advertise heavily discounted goods to lure shoppers in. Check the website address and contact details to see if they exist. Check for low-res images, the quality of packaging, grammar or spelling mistakes. You can also use a search engine to see if the company name and address actually exist.
  • Check the reviews. Read reviews from different pages, online forums, and search engines. Read them carefully and look out for any consistent or overly positive comments. They could all be coming from the same source.
  • Can the website be trusted? Check that the site is secure and its URL begins with “https” instead of “http”. To make a secure online payment check the payment page uses a URL address that begins with HTTPS and it displays a padlock or key logo. Always use a credit card because it’s easier to get your money back from the credit card provider if the product is counterfeit. Never use a direct money transfer, this type of payment request usually indicates a scam and your bank probably won’t refund your money.
  • It is official? Official websites publish authorised sellers. Check the official brands’ website, they often publish a list of authorised sellers. If the website you are visiting isn’t listed, it’s probably selling counterfeit products. In some cases, the brands also list black-listed website and these should be avoided at all costs.
  • Check your consumer rights. Check if the site offers a return policy, terms, and conditions, and a privacy policy. A real company should tell you how and where to return a faulty item, as well as what they do with your data.

Clarks said it was aware of the issue is working to remove the adverts.

A spokeswoman for company told the Sun: “At Clarks, we take the reliability of our online presence and the safeguarding of our customers extremely seriously.”

“Any customers with concerns should get in touch with our customer care team for support.

 “When choosing to shop online, we recommend always checking for the official domain authority before completing your purchase, which is for all our UK-based customers.”

The Sun also contacted Monsoon Accessorize for comment. Tommy Hilfiger declined to comment.

A fake Tommy Hilfiger advert is seen on Instagram

ACG also reported a 2,490 per cent increase in sales of unsafe face masks in March and April this year.

It comes after the Local Government Association said British councils had reported a 40 per cent increase in fake and unsafe face masks and hand sanitiser since the start of the outbreak.

Experts are warning shoppers to remain vigilant when shopping online – and have issued advice about what to look out for.

The research comes after a series of scams took place over the last few months during lockdown.

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