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Carolyn Johnston, Co-Author of “Power Spending: Getting More For Less,” contributed the following post, originally featured on Free Money Finance:

A lot of us have ventured online to do some shopping. Naturally, we want to know that the site we are shopping on is safe. That explains why I shop at Amazon. I trust that the products are good, the service is reliable, and my personal information will be kept safe.

When you go to the Amazon website, you can buy directly from Amazon or buy from a seller with products listed on the site. Generally, the sellers are ranked by price-lowest to highest for each item. Quite often, the price is lower than Amazon’s. The items are listed as new or used (including the item’s condition), and there is a seller rating based on previous buyers’ feedback. You consider all these factors before you make your buying selection. If you purchase from a seller, you will pay Amazon but the seller ships the item directly to you. Amazon acts as a consignment store for these sellers. You feel confident that you are buying on a safe site, you have recourse through Amazon if there is a problem, and you have some input on the buyer’s rating (up to 5 stars) as you can leave feedback on the item you purchased and the service that you received.

However, when you buy from these sellers, are you really getting a good deal? Let me explain. My oldest son is a collector (mainly CDs). He has a never-ending list of music that he wants to buy, and he’s always on the lookout for a deal. He’s also very particular about the condition of anything he buys. He carefully examines any merchandise he receives to make sure that it is in the advertised condition he was promised. The rest of the family think he is a little obsessive. Anyway, last week he ordered and received a DVD in the mail from an Amazon seller. Upon close scrutiny, he discovered that it was a fake-a very convincing copy of the actual product. He didn’t even have to open the plastic wrap and, of course, is not going to keep it. He contacted Amazon. He was told to contact the seller. He did, but there was no response, so back to Amazon. He’ll get his money back, but it’s a very frustrating and time-consuming process. This is not an isolated case. Actually, it’s happened to our family before-and looking at some of the feedback on the website, there have been other cases of the same thing. Here are some comments left as feedback for just one of the sellers on Amazon (each paragraph is a separate comment):
Disc#1 Last 5 mins (or so) of episode freezes and we don’t see the ending.?
Disc#2 Only 1st episode on disc is viewable, the last three episodes are unviewable!
WARNING! DO NOT USE THIS SELLER.
My product was an obvious BOOTLEG. I paid good money and was SCREWED by this seller. Do NOT under any circumstances BUY ANYTHING from —-. They will not even reply to your email when you COMPLAIN to them about the USELESS garbage that they have shipped to you.
WARNING! DO NOT USE THIS SELLER.
COUNTERFEIT! A very good counterfeit but a counterfeit nonetheless. The real House Season 5 DVD set is the same as the other seasons, slim plastic DVD cases inside a sleeve box. This seller sent me a three-part fold-up case with a cardboard back using the images from the real thing. The return service was fine, got my money back, but avoid this seller at all costs. Commercial piracy really hurts. Arrived fairly quickly, seems to be in good condition…however the disc freezes at one point in the movie every time I play it. Otherwise, satisfactory.” I am very disappointed. I bought a DVD from them for $49 and it turned out to be a copied version and not the original. I even found the DVD cover image on Google with the exact same code bar. I will not purchase from them again. Beware of seller! They sold me a counterfeit, albeit a very good one. I tried contacting them and they haven’t replied. I should have read their customer feedback before I ordered the item because this is not the first time they have sold another customer a counterfeit DVD. Despite these comments that reveal that the seller is dealing in fake merchandise, he still has a rating of 91%.

Whose fault is it that sellers are getting away with selling illegal copies of CDs and DVDs on Amazon? Certainly, if Amazon were aware that a seller was selling illegal copyrighted items, they would be at fault. We trust them and expect that they are providing trustworthy sellers on their site. However, if we, the buyers, don’t let Amazon know about these sellers, we are to blame. Amazon is counting on us to reflect on the quality of the product and service by our feedback. So what is the problem? Are we just so worried about getting a good price that we are willing to accept fake and illegal products? Are we just oblivious to the fact that the merchandise is fake? Maybe we just can’t be bothered. I say that we make Amazon and other online sites a safer place to shop. Let’s protect ourselves and others from these fraudulent products. It takes a little effort and some time, but we can do it! Here are some suggestions:

  1. You know what they say…if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. You are looking for the best price, but if the asking price is really out of line with other similar quality products, this may be a warning sign that the item is fake.
  2. Read the feedback before placing an order. You may decide that it’s not worth the risk.
  3. It’s important to check the item over when you receive it before you leave your feedback.
  4. Once you examine the item, if it looks suspicious, email the seller. If the seller offers to refund your money and tells you to keep your purchase, there’s a good chance your suspicions are correct, and the item is a fake. The seller doesn’t want you to make a stink about it. It would be tempting just to let it go, but this only keeps the criminals in business.
  5. Report the crime to Amazon and warn other people by giving negative feedback.
  6. When you find good, reliable, and honest sellers, then support them with future purchases-even if their prices aren’t the lowest.

Remember – only you can prevent crime! Do your part to make sure that you and others really are getting a good deal.