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Consumer group issues unsafe toy warning ahead of the holidays

Supply chain issues may make it more likely for parents to buy a dangerous toy

Children's toys and blocks
Photo (c) Isabel Pavia - Getty Images
Parents have already started their holiday shopping and reportedly face supply chain challenges in finding favorite toys. The consumer group U.S. PIRG says that shortfall could increase the dangers from counterfeit or recalled toys.

In its 36th Annual Toy Safety Report, U.S. PIRG found that recalled or counterfeit toys have already made their way to consumers’ shopping carts. The organization has urged parents to check toys closely before giving them as gifts.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has recalled 13 toys so far this year. PIRG Education Fund toy researchers found two additional recalled products — a hoverboard and a children’s watch accessory — that could fit into the toy gift category. 

Safety experts say the recalled toys pose a number of risks, including high levels of lead, potential foreign-body ingestion by a child, and choking hazards caused by small parts from easily broken toys.

Toys from traditional retailers should be safe

The group says parents who purchased toys at well-established retail stores are much less likely to find toys with safety risks. Those toys are required to have a Children’s Product Certificate (CPC). The CPC seal shows that the toy follows all applicable federal safety standards for children.

The problem, safety advocates say, involves toys purchased at thrift stores or online at unfamiliar or third-party retailers. They say websites that act as the middleman between the customer and the seller can be especially problematic.

“The middlemen do not consider themselves to be traditional retailers and therefore often do not follow the same rules that a traditional retailer would,” U.S. PIRG said in a press release. “Whereas the retailers must receive a certificate of compliance from a manufacturer before selling a toy, not every toy sold online may be covered by a CPC and the toy described in the website listing might not be the toy that arrives at your door.”

Potential dangers include toxic chemicals such as heavy metals or phthalates. Most parents don’t have access to labs that could test for harmful substances.

Because of supply chain constraints this year, consumer advocates worry that the unsafe toy problem could be worse. They say parents may cast a wider net in their search for toys for their children.

How to spot a fake or dangerous toy

U.S. PIRG has released a set of tips for parents and other relatives on how to spot a counterfeit or dangerous toy. First, the group recommends looking at the seller’s website. When looking at a toy’s product description, watch out for misspellings or mislabeling. Website listings with low-quality pictures of toys can also indicate a counterfeit, the group says.

The group also says to look for age recommendations. If there isn’t a clear age range, it’s best to avoid buying the toy. 

A “too-good-to-be-true” price can also be a red flag. When shopping on a website that has third-party sellers, comparing listings for similar toys can be a good way to identify what the average price should be. 

When shopping at websites hosting third-party sellers, you should be able to access the seller’s information. On Amazon, you can select the seller’s name under “Buy Now.” On eBay, you can click the seller’s name under “Seller Information.” On Walmart.com, a product sold by a third party has the seller’s name listed next to “Sold and shipped by.” 

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