Beware fake hoverboards: Counterfeit goods are no longer cheap imitations confined to the black market

Gary McIlraith
"It’s remarkably easy for counterfeit goods like these to make their way online" (Source: Getty)

Only a few months ago, hoverboard hysteria swept the nation. Endorsements by celebrities from Lily Allen to Usain Bolt led to a massive rush of pre-orders and John Lewis swiftly ran out of stock.

However, there is also a dark side to all of this excitement: the seizure of more than 15,000 hoverboards imported into the UK has raised serious questions over the safety of these items.

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute recently revealed that nearly nine out of 10 of the hoverboards seized failed basic safety checks. Numbers like these may sound shocking – but should this really come as such a big surprise? Our research into the IO Hawk hoverboards currently being sold via online marketplaces found that less than 1 per cent were genuine.

Read more: Self-balancing "hoverboards" are illegal on UK roads and pavements

It’s remarkably easy for counterfeit goods like these to make their way online, and shoppers are increasingly falling victim to knock-off products that can have life-threatening consequences.

Many online marketplaces are making a significant effort to crack down on counterfeit and dangerous goods – driven by Amazon withdrawing most hoverboards from its site - but it is difficult for them to keep pace with the rapid growth of e-commerce. Individual users can do their part by reporting suspicious items, but with millions of items for sale at any one time, it’s nearly impossible to monitor precisely what goods are changing hands at any given moment.

The truth is that the under-regulated online environment has allowed illegal – and often dangerous - products to masquerade as the real thing for years.

But who is responsible for taking action and taking them down? Does the onus fall on the government, the brands who manufacture the products, or the retailers who sell them?

If there is one thing that the seizure of these hoverboards illustrates, it is that counterfeit goods are no longer just cheap imitations that are confined to the black market.

Read more: Social media is the new market for IP crimes

Many fraudsters are now able to source genuine packaging and bypass security measures such as holograms to create sophisticated counterfeit items and sell them on authentic websites. However, these goods are not put through the same vigorous safety checks as legitimate items and can, therefore, be dangerous.

At the end of the day, cost is often the biggest indicator of a fake product. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.

With many retailers offering attractive discounts over the holiday shopping period, consumers will need to be extra vigilant in order to make sure their goods are genuine.

After all, their lives may depend on it.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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