Make sure every holiday toy you buy online is worth your money and safe for your family.

By Maggie Seaver
November 12, 2019

You’d be surprised how hard it is to know the difference between real toys and counterfeit toys—especially when you’re shopping online from an unfamiliar retailer. According to data from Wakefield Research for The Toy Association, 31 percent of parents who buy their kids’ toys online believe there’s no way counterfeit toys could be sold on major online marketplaces—but unfortunately, they’re wrong.

The problem with purchasing counterfeit products is (at least) two-fold. First, more practically, buying counterfeit products online means you’re getting gypped—big time. Who wants to pay the real-deal price for a cheap knockoff, whether it’s a toy truck or a bottle of perfume? But perhaps the bigger concern is that fraudulent toys from rogue sellers can be extremely unsafe for kids to play with, since they haven’t been vetted with safety tests and verified to comply with U.S. toy safety standards. Per The Toy Association's findings, 34 percent of parents who shop for toys on the internet don't realize that imitation toys aren't tested for safety and could pose a danger to their kids (think: choking hazards, flammability, faulty pieces, or mislabeled age recommendations).

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“Unfortunately, bad actors frequently outside our nation manage to infiltrate online marketplaces, so we continually alert and educate parents on how to protect themselves by purchasing toys only from honest, legitimate manufacturers and sellers,” says Steve Pasierb, president & CEO of The Toy Association.

Products not made, tested, and approved domestically can’t always be trusted. It can be hard to know the difference as an unassuming online holiday shopper—especially anyone who's willing (even with the best of intentions) to forgo safety for a last-minute deal or too-good-to-be-true gift idea for their little one. According to the research, 32 percent of parents would consider buying toys from unverified retailers if the item was sold out everywhere else, 31 percent would do so if it was the exact one their child wanted, and 27 percent said they might just because the price was lower.

If you're not sure if something's legit, listen to your gut. Before clicking "add to cart," here are The Toy Association's top tips for spotting and avoiding counterfeit toys, and keeping your kids safe while playing.

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1. Do some extra sleuthing.

Shopping at an unfamiliar online retailer? Check out their online presence, hunt for customer reviews, and keep your eyes peeled for red flags, for example: There's no readily available website for the manufacturer or you see grammatical errors in the product description and/or poorly edited imagery. "A great alternative is to visit the toy brand’s website and either purchase directly from the site or follow links to an official retailer to purchase," according to The Toy Association.

2. Choose safety over savings.

No one loves a good deal more than we do, but when it comes to the safety of your children, verified quality should always trump a slashed price tag. "If a deal seems too good to be true, the product might be counterfeit or imitation," says The Toy Association. "A fake toy or cheaper alternative might unsafe—it's not worth the risk."

3. Heed the age recommendation.

The Toy Association found that nearly all parents (96 percent) believed their child would be fine playing with a toy with an age recommendation that was too old for them. "This is troubling because [toy age] grading is not based on a child’s intelligence, but rather his or her developmental skills at a given age. Toys labeled 3+ might contain small parts that are a choking hazard for children under age three or those who still mouth toys." Once you know a toy seller is the real deal, follow the minimum age requirement, just in case. (For more toy safety know-how, check out PlaySafe.org.)

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