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Consumer Alert

Be wary and wise when shopping on the Internet

What used to be a street-corner-level problem of getting fake Rolexes or copycat Coach handbags has gone global.

Instead of just avoiding the guy on the corner, it’s now a game of making sure you know from whom — and where — you are buying online. Some sites selling fakes are so bad they’re laughable. But, these days, it isn’t all that hard to hijack real product images and even find someone who can write in English well enough to make the site seem legit.

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Just ask Sheila Perrault of Tyngsborough. Her son was shopping for a pair of Nike Air Jordan sneakers and came upon the site AirJordan5FireRed2013.com. While the Web address alone might make some suspicious, the photos on the site are authentic and the information wouldn’t raise alarms. Nothing tips you off that the site is in China.

So, $120 later a box arrived and “you can tell they were phony Air Jordans,” Perrault said. She complained to the Better Business Bureau.

“They’re one of hundreds of knock-off websites out of China,” said Paula Fleming, vice president of the Better Business Bureau serving Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont. “Whether it’s shoes, jerseys, etc., these sites typically do deliver the products; however they lack the expected quality the consumers hope for.”

You might get seconds but usually you just get a cheap imitation. Perrault tried to get her money back and received an e-mail explaining that they’ll give back 30 percent of the purchase price if she kept the shoes or “if you return the products, the shipping cost is too high, and the procedure will take a long time. Pls thinking it over.”

Before you buy online from a company that isn’t familiar, search to see if there are any complaints, look in the Better Business Bureau’s database, and go to a Web registration look-up site such as Whois.net to see who owns the site and when it was registered.

Other than hoping to get the credit card company to reverse the transaction, there’s little US consumers can do if they’ve been taken by a foreign site. It’s best to avoid those street corners altogether.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com.
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