From the Magazine

Counterfeit Sales are Rising — Here’s How to Protect Yourself This Holiday Season

From phony electronics to fake medications, counterfeit sales are on the rise lately. The good news: Our experts share easy ways to protect yourself (and your bottom line) from low-quality knockoffs.

Prolong the life of your phone with “real McCoy” chargers.

Buying that phone charger for a few bucks online may seem like a steal, but it could cost you more in the long run. That’s because name-brand cords provide a steady charging stream and cut off power when your battery reaches capacity, but the knockoffs don’t have any such regulation, meaning your phone gets hit with damaging surges. 

How can you tell if your charger is subpar? Just look for few key letters on the label, says Karla Crosswhite of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. “The letters CE, ETL, or MFI are certification marks, which mean the product is safety-tested.” Also smart: Watch for misspellings on the label, such as the company name with one letter off. And if the cord doesn’t fit well when you go to plug it in, that could be another red flag that it’s a shoddy version.

Ensure quality electronics by shopping in person.

Knockoff electronics — from TVs to tablets — have significantly shorter life spans than those from a name-brand supplier. “Stick to an actual brick-and-mortar big box store to ensure the product is legitimate,” urges Crosswhite. “And look for signs that the package was previously opened, such as broken seals or wrappers.” 

Be particularly careful with Apple products from a third-party seller, as they’re the most commonly counterfeited electronics. Also smart: Like gadgets, it’s best to buy safety products like bike helmets, car seats, and child-proofing gates, directly from a store to avoid counterfeits.

Protect your prescriptions by sticking to regulated pharmacies.

Cheap meds from unverified websites — like those claiming to be from Canada — are often fakes. “Counterfeits may contain the wrong ingredients,” reveals Jeremy Kahn of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Stick to well-known pharmacies such as CVS or Walgreens, which are monitored by the FDA.” Also smart: Ask your healthcare provider what your medication should look like — the size, shape, and color.

When It’s Safe to Buy Bargain

Good news is, it’s not always bad to go for the cheaper version. Here are a few guidelines for shopping smart on a budget.

Choose quality store-brand food.

Now that big retailers like Costco, Target, and Kroger all have their own store brands, the quality of generics has increased dramatically while they remain 15 percent to 30 percent less expensive.

Zero in on active ingredients.

Skipping the name-brand on OTC products that list “active ingredients” — such as pain relievers or cough syrup — can save you big. Simply compare the name-brand’s ingredient list and dosage with that of the store brand. Chances are they’re identical and just as effective.

Pinpoint bargain batteries.

A recent study found that generic batteries last just as long as their name-brand counterparts but cost half as much! A great source of inexpensive generic batteries? Dollar Tree.

This story originally appeared in our print magazine.

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