In what's becoming an annual mantra, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is once again raising concerns about consumer marketing for products trying to fool the consumer that those items are “Made in the USA,” such as the agency's recent censure of Pyrex.
But lately, companies aren’t being so direct about making the “made in the USA” claim, but rather trying to fly under the radar by proclaiming that the product “ships from the USA.” The agency is warning consumers to watch out for that phrasing before they click the buy button.
The FTC points out that both social media marketplaces and online stores like Etsy and Amazon are ripe with these claims. When ConsumerAffairs took a deeper look at the “ships from the USA” issue, it was clear that more than a few sellers were trying to pull the wool over the shopper’s eye.
When we searched for “ships from the USA” on Amazon, there were “over 60,000 results.” Lighting, hoverboards, wheelchairs, Bibles, wedding rings, potty training toilets, and more bore that description.
On Etsy, there seemed to be fewer instances, and the ones that made the “ships from” claims tended to be jewelry-related and home furnishings such as pillows. Some even made their claim more granular by saying “ships from CA [California] USA” and we found one who was straight up about their tartan plaid fabrics, referring to them as “Woven in Scotland - Ships from the U.S.A.”
Facebook Marketplace was loaded with a never-ending scroll of “Ships from USA” products, too – everything from butterfly stakes to coffee mugs, to furniture to trailer hitches.
Problem vs. no problem
The FTC says its concerns are built around several factors.
“Let’s say there’s a product that was made overseas. Sometimes, stores will ship that product to U.S. distribution centers. No problem,” the agency’s Andrew Rayo said.
“Sometimes, stores will let customers know that the product is shipping from within the U.S. Again, no problem — as long as it’s clear those products aren’t U.S.-made.”
The important takeaway for the consumer is this: If a store doesn’t make the difference between “made in” and “ships from” perfectly clear, chances are that product isn't “made in the USA.”
How to protect yourself
If “Made in the USA” is important to you, then before you buy anything, the FTC suggests you do several things:
Search online for the name of the store, plus words like “scam” or “complaint.” One search method that works well is this: “(name of store)” AND scam OR complaint. The uppercase letters tell a search engine that those words must be part of the results.
Check the reviews. See if others have had good or bad experiences with the store. Focus on sites you know are credible and that offer impartial reviews from real experts. As ConsumerAffairs found in its reviews, there were several consumers who had both good and bad experiences related to “Made in the USA” and looking for those might help as well.
Look up the return policy. Some products made outside the USA may be of questionable quality and if a product you purchase doesn’t meet your standards, you would be wise to find out if the store takes returns and gives refunds before you buy it.
Pay by credit card, if you can. The FTC thinks credit cards offer the most protection against fraud, plus they offer the right to dispute charges if there are problems with your purchase.
If you think a store is trying to pass off its products as "made in the USA" when they’re not, report it at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.