The recent broadcast of CBC Marketplace’s episode underscored two important consequences of acts of fraud in the sale of goods online, the difficulty consumers have getting those goods replaced or refunded, and the shortcomings of related government prevention or enforcement.
The episode 'Counterfeit Crackdown' aired February 21 and can still be viewed through cable systems' “on demand” services. Episodes also are posted here some weeks after broadcast. The show purchased multiple products from five leading online retailers – Ebay, Amazon, AliExpress, Wish and Walmart – and then had those purchases evaluated by three experts in counterfeit goods. These experts identified almost all the items shown on the program as counterfeit.
The program highlighted for viewers the prevalence on online fraud, although the show may have underplayed the difference between buying goods from third parties through these networks (the online retailers acting as 'brokers') and purchasing goods directly from the host retailers.
In just 30-minutes, Marketplace could not possibly report on all aspects of a complicated story. However, one revelation of the show was the contrast in the protections offered by Canada's Border Service Agency and U.S. customs authorities. CBSA officials would not allow the program to show how its inspectors evaluate shipments. So the show featured U.S. customs procedures which interdicted 33,800 problem shipments in the last year, while using an Access to Information request, CBC determined Canadian authorities detained just 69 problem shipments over the past three years. A 2019 Consumers Council of Canada research report noted the trend of Canadian regulators to reduce or even withdraw from pro-active inspections of a variety of imported goods.
Little time was given in Marketplace's report to the remedies available to consumers who are cheated. The panelists mentioned Canada’s Anti-Fraud Centre and its advice, which amounted to saying “be careful”. That would provide little comfort to a consumer after they have already been misled to buy a counterfeit item, and given a merchant their money. The opportunity for consumers to seek a "chargeback" through their bank's credit card deparment was referred to in passing. Consumers may be able to have a purchase charged back to a merchant when they don't receive goods as promised and they paid by credit card. A recent Consumers Council of Canada research report explains this option.
Consumers Council's 2019 report Consumer Attitudes and Their Role in Reducing the Impact of Counterfeit and Pirated Goods and Services concluded that consumers find it difficult to identify the perils of buying counterfeit goods and pirated media. The research included a 2,000 person national web survey, and 95% of respondents were “unaware of government or business programs to curb the proliferation of counterfeit goods and pirated digital content.”
Though none of the retailers agreed to appear on camera, all offered written statements about the procedures they take to protect consumers. Amazon and Ebay referenced their “A to Z Guarantee” and “Money-Back Guarantee” specifically as commitments to protect consumers who bought fraudulent goods, while the others referenced their efforts to police third-party sellers who use their networks. Those statements are posted here.