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A new report from the U.S Department of Commerce has shown that counterfeit tools are on the rise in online marketplaces. The report stated that 37% of tools and building supplies sold on Amazon, eBay, and other major eCommerce platforms were found to be counterfeit or black-market goods rather than the real thing. Tools, in particular, have been hit hard by this trend, with nearly half of all auto mechanic tools being found to be counterfeit rather than authentic original manufacturer products. Fortunately, there are some steps that buyers can take to avoid purchasing these fake tools and instead find what they’re looking for with confidence.

How Black-Market Tools Sell

Black-market tool suppliers use common eCommerce platforms to market their products. They operate in a few different ways: they can sell direct, using landing pages and Google AdWords; they can sell on third-party sites such as eBay or Amazon; or they can open up their own online storefronts, utilizing Shopify and similar services. Regardless of how they’re selling, it’s important to know what you’re looking for—otherwise, you could end up building with tools that fail early or have a low tolerance for vibrations. Most legit brands post some form of disclaimer on their site or packaging—but counterfeiters typically don’t take those kinds of precautions. 

Always ask questions about where your product came from if you aren’t given an answer right away. If anything feels off during your research, trust your gut and move on to another supplier. Make sure to look at shipping costs, too. Sometimes fake sellers will charge high shipping rates so you think you’re getting a deal—when really, that extra $50 is probably going into their pocket. Whether your source is legitimate or not, always do your homework. It might save you money in the long run. If you have any doubts about a particular brand or seller, either contact them directly (if possible) or check out their reviews online before making your purchase. No matter how simple it seems, never assume you’re protected when buying tools online without talking to a human first—and if something seems too good to be true, it most likely is. Not all Internet sales are bad news; just make sure you proceed with caution and see through any red flags before committing yourself.

One popular way to do this is through proxies: Shipping cargo via intermediary locations along its route can let companies bypass government taxes and tariffs, potentially saving lots of money as a result. One company will put cargo on a boat in one country heading toward another country—but instead of sending it directly there, they’ll drop it off somewhere en route.

What to Do if You Buy a Black-Market Tool

Buying a counterfeit or black-market tool can seem like a good idea at first—you’re not looking to spend $1,000 on a new table saw and you find one for $200. The trouble comes when you start using it. If it has poor build quality, is inaccurate, or doesn’t perform well, you’ll be left with an expensive piece of metal that doesn’t meet your needs. There are two ways to handle such tools: Either pay less attention to reviews and buy from unverified sellers (this is riskier), or use professional-grade products that have always been tested thoroughly by experts in their field (and are usually backed by solid warranties). You get what you pay for; don’t cut corners unless you know exactly what you’re doing. 

How To Protect Yourself From Purchasing Black-Market Tools

The internet is an amazing tool that allows buyers to purchase almost anything from anywhere, making it easy for unscrupulous sellers to sell counterfeits, knockoffs, and black-market tools—something that’s become a problem in many eCommerce marketplaces. 

To protect yourself from purchasing from these shady sellers, take note of these tips: 

Read product reviews carefully: Legitimate sellers have no reason to hide negative reviews. If they do, you may be looking at a potentially dangerous counterfeit product. Are there red flags? Excessive capitalization, grammatical errors, or negative comments with suspiciously similar wording are all warning signs you should be aware of. Read through them carefully and determine whether they seem suspicious or genuine; if they don’t sound like real reviews, consider reporting them as spam or false claims. 

Research authentic sources: We tend to trust companies we know or have heard of over unfamiliar ones, so it’s important to read customer feedback on official websites and conduct independent research on third-party websites before purchasing. Take caution if some sites appear generic or are virtually empty—it may be that a new seller hasn’t yet built up enough traffic (and feedback) to be considered trustworthy by other consumers. 

Use your senses! While inspecting an item visually can tell you much about its quality, smells and sounds can help too. Real steel has a unique scent; if it smells different than expected, take extra care to ensure its authenticity before committing to a sale. Sound also matters: fake metals tend to ring differently than their authentic counterparts when struck together (or against concrete), giving another clue that something could be off about what you’re buying. 

Check user groups: Do you want advice directly from experts? Does your model need servicing every six months regardless of how often you use it? Find answers to questions like these and more within users groups on Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. Don’t forget to ask questions before posting, though – users only want to share expertise if they think others will listen! • Seek out brands: Some brands carry both high-quality products and higher price tags, but investing in brand-name goods means that you won’t be risking your safety just to save a few bucks. By focusing on name brands, most consumers say they don’t have any problems finding safe options online. 

Set deadlines: Given that most online transactions go smoothly, you’ll likely never find yourself needing to cancel a transaction. But if it does happen, be sure to do so quickly after discovering you’ve purchased a counterfeit or black-market product. In most cases, these orders are given special attention and expedited shipping to allow sellers to get rid of these illegitimate items as soon as possible.

Photo by rakhmat suwandi on Unsplash