We use cookies to allow us and selected partners to improve your experience and our advertising. By continuing to browse you consent to our use of cookies. You can understand more and change your cookies preferences here.

Coronavirus Read our latest advice
Reviews based on facts
Our rigorous tests find the facts, and our impartial reviews tell you the truth about how products perform. First month £5, then £9.99 per month, cancel anytime.
Try Which?
1 December 2020

How to avoid fake and dangerous products

Online marketplaces offer choice, value and convenience – but choose carefully. Our investigations have uncovered a range of fake and dangerous products
Power plug fire
Which? Team

Online marketplaces – shopping websites that allow you to buy from multiple third-party sellers – do not have the same responsibilities as high street or regular online retailers for the safety of the products sold on their sites, and unfortunately we’ve seen unsafe products appearing on these platforms time and time again. 

In fact, Which? research published this year found that a staggering 66% of the 250 products bought from online marketplaces have failed safety tests.

We’re pushing for the government to do more to end dangerous products, but in the meantime it’s important to be aware of the risks, and the ways you can mitigate these when shopping online.

Three quick tips to help avoid dangerous products when shopping online 

It can be tricky to work out whether a product is safe or not before you buy it – often here at Which? we don’t know for sure until we’ve put it through a full lab test. However, we have seen patterns that mean we can offer some helpful, general advice, especially when you're buying a product with safety or security considerations.

  • Don’t go cheap – many of the dangerous safety issues we found were discovered on cheap products bought online. It’s worth spending a little more for peace of mind.
  • Stick to known brands – the majority of problems we’ve found come from unknown brands, or unbranded products.
  • Do your research – it’s worth putting the time in before you buy, and don’t just rely on high customer review scores on the marketplaces.

Check the brand 

The popularity of online marketplaces has coincided with the rise of the ‘unknown brand’. Marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay are filled with tantalisingly cheap options that may be boosted by hundreds or thousands of positive reviews, but many of these are on brands you might not recognise.

We’ve highlighted the dangers of fake reviews many times over the past few years, but a pattern we’ve found in our product safety work is that the vast majority of issues are with products from brands we’d never heard of.

Beware of fakes, copycats and counterfeits 

Sometimes brand considerations will only get you so far – our investigations have revealed counterfeit products and misleading listings that may look like an official product, only to end up being a cheap clone. 

These will likely be of inferior quality but can also be dangerous, particularly if there is a safety element involved.

Counterfeits can be difficult or even impossible to identify from the listings themselves, especially when they use official photography from the real brand.

Be aware of safety standards

A product that clearly shows it adheres to safety standards can be reassuring. 

Any product designed for babies or children can adhere to a specific safety standard and have a CE mark that indicates the product has met EU health, safety and environmental concerns. You may also see the Lion Mark on toys, which indicates toy safety and is used by the British Toy and Hobby Association and Toy Retailers Association.

However, the only mandatory safety requirements are for child car seats, where the law states that only EU-approved seats can be used or sold in the UK. These have a clear orange approval label with either R129 or R44.04 on them indicating they can be sold in the UK market.

All others are voluntary standards, but big brands do tend to comply because many major retailers won't stock products if the seller can't prove they are safe and have been tested externally. 

For example, the EN50291 standard for CO alarms is voluntary, but all of the recognisable brands will have passed these standard tests, and you should see this Kitemark on the packaging. 

Which? has found a range of dangerous products on online marketplaces, from baby sleeping bags and teething toys to slime and child car seats. If in doubt, follow the advice on this page – stick to known, reputable brands and don’t go cheap.

Which? tests for safety on a wide range of product areas, and we clearly include important information in our reviews. Categories include: Car seats, pushchairs, stair gates, high chairs, cot mattresses, baby slings/carriers, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

Consider smart device security 

It’s not just safety you need to consider when shopping online – security is a more recent concern, particularly given the rise of smart, connected devices. Marketplaces are full of cheap alternatives to well-known brands, but we’ve found that unless you choose carefully, you could end up putting your data and your home network at risk.
  • We’ve continually found issues with cheap, wireless cameras on marketplaces, including over 100,000 indoor security cameras in the UK homes that could have critical security flaws which would put them at risk of hacking. 
  • Sometimes safety and security concerns marry up. Our investigation into cheap smart plugs shows how they could be dangerous enough to start a fire, as well as compromising your personal data. 
  • Even some well-known brands aren’t safe – kids karaoke machines and smart toys were found to have security issues that could put children at risk and compromise a home network.

How to report a fake or dangerous product

If you suspect a product isn't safe, you’re normally able to report or flag it to the marketplace.

The marketplace will be alerted and may look into why it’s been flagged.

  • On Amazon, get in touch to report the issue via Amazon customer services.
  • On eBay, use the 'Report item' link just above the main product description, where you can select a list of reasons for reporting and detail the problem. 
LATEST NEWS IN Which? Shopping food and drink See all news