Buying toys online? Here's how to make sure they're not counterfeit

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

It can be hard to tell the difference between an authentic and a counterfeit toy -- especially when you’re shopping online. And while a recent survey found that nearly 70 percent of toy-purchasing parents don’t believe there’s any way imitation toys are being sold on major online marketplaces, unfortunately, they’re wrong. 

Findings from Wakefield Research say that nearly 1 in 3 parents don’t realize counterfeit toys are lurking online, representing a blind spot through which fraudulent toys that might be unsafe can slip into households. 

There’s a few issues with knock-off toys. First, they’re a rip off. But more importantly, imitation toys can pose a real danger to children since they haven’t been vetted with safety tests and verified to comply with U.S. toy safety standards.

“U.S. toy safety standards are among the strictest in the world,” said Joan Lawrence, senior vice president of standards and regulatory affairs at The Toy Association. “Before reaching your house, toys are subject to over a hundred safety standards and tests and must be certified compliant by a third-party testing lab.” 

But more than a third (34 percent) of moms and dads surveyed didn't know that counterfeit toys are not always tested for safety. 

"Unfortunately, bad actors frequently outside our nation manage to infiltrate online marketplaces, so we continually alert and educate parents on how to protect themselves by purchasing toys only from honest, legitimate manufacturers and sellers,” said Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of The Toy Association.

Many parents admit that they might gamble on unverified sellers when they’re searching for the perfect gift or if they find a deal they can’t pass up. In the survey, 32 percent said they’d buy a toy from an unverified seller if it was out of stock everywhere else, and 27 percent said they’d be enticed by a lower price. 

How can you spot a counterfeit toy online? First, do some sleuthing. Parents are advised to dig a little deeper into a lesser-known seller's online presence and reviews to be sure the toy they are considering is authentic – and therefore, safe. 

Can't find a website for the manufacturer or seller at hand? That's one red flag. 

Multiple grammatical errors in a product description or poorly photoshopped pictures are more red flags. 

The Toy Association says an alternative is to visit the toy brand's website and either purchase directly from the site or follow links to an official retailer to purchase.

Finally, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. The product might be a counterfeit or imitation. 

Other Important Toy Safety Guidelines 

The Toy Association is urging parents, grandparents, and other gift givers to ensure their kids stay safe by following important safety tips – not just leading up to the holidays, but all year long.

Age Grading

An alarming 96 percent of parents are confident that their children can play with a toy even if they are younger than the toy’s age recommendation, according to a recent survey of 1,000 U.S. parents. But the age-grading on a toy isn’t related to how smart a child is or merely a suggestion — it’s based on the developmental abilities of kids at a given age and the specific features of a toy. When children play with a toy above their age grade, they might misuse the toy and get hurt. Age grading is found directly on toy packaging or in the product descriptions for all legitimate toys sold online.

Small Parts

Pay special attention to toys labeled 3+, since these toys may contain small parts that can be a choking hazard for children under three (or kids who still mouth toys). Toys with small parts will be labeled, so keep a careful eye out as you shop, and consider getting a Small Parts Tester (available in the baby-proofing section of most toy stores) to test other small objects found around the home.

Household Dangers

Kids can find ways to play with anything – including objects that are not toys, like small powerful magnets (found in executive desk toys) or button cell batteries (from remotes, hearing aids, and so on). These objects are not meant to be played with and can be very dangerous if accidentally swallowed. Always keep them out of children’s reach.

Parents are encouraged to share these tips with grandparents and other gift-givers and to supervise children and demonstrate safe play.

“Showing little ones how to properly use a toy or game is the best way to make sure they understand how to safely enjoy it. Best of all, playing together as a family is lots of fun and even has enhanced developmental benefits for children,” added Lawrence.