Senators demand changes to consumer laws to prevent counterfeit and harmful products

Photo (c) Olivier Le Moal - Getty Images

Batteries and toys are a major concern

Now that we’re in December and the holiday shopping season has started to pick up, a group of bipartisan U.S. senators has decided to bear down on the grinches that produce counterfeit products -- the kind that are not only rip-offs of famous brands but are also potentially hazardous to consumers. 

At a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) denounced the growing number of unscrupulous third-party online retailers who bombard social media with ads and posts for the things they sell. She said these ads make it difficult for consumers to tell the difference between an authentic and a counterfeit product.

“We’re very concerned about what we see happening with some of the infiltration of counterfeit products,” Blackburn said.

How bad is it? In 2020, the total estimated merchandise value of counterfeited commodity products the U.S. seized due to intellectual property rights infringement for watches and jewelry alone came to $435.25 million.

Consumer protection laws called into question

Across the aisle, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) -- who Blackburn has partnered with on issues like Instagram’s effect on teenage girls and Google and Apple app market dominance -- said it’s easy for dishonest sellers to portray themselves as legitimate and skirt regulations. He added that loopholes in consumer protection laws that allow this kind of behavior need to be tied off.

Specifically, Blumenthal says Section 6B of the Consumer Protection Act needs to be changed. In it, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is banned from publicly sharing information about specific manufacturers until ”reasonable steps” have been taken to certify that information is fair and correct. 

Blumenthal’s gripe with 6B is that it delays the CPSC from disclosing hazards that put consumers at risk.

Added concern over counterfeit toys

Members of the subcommittee and witnesses also sounded the alarm on unsafe products that consumers might give as gifts during the holiday season. Everything from counterfeit toys to malfunctioning decorations were discussed at the hearing.

“Unfortunately, the burden is on consumers to identify counterfeit, knockoff and mislabeled products — which can be difficult for those who are not familiar with lab testing certification, age warning labels and what the manufacturer’s brand logo looks like,” said Hannah Rhodes, the author of the U.S. PIRG’s recently released 36th annual Trouble in Toyland report.

Proof can be found in the statistics. The CPSC estimates that emergency rooms treated 198,000 toy-related injuries last year. “The best way to keep a child safe from injury from a toy is to keep an eye on them, look out for any broken toys and to ensure the toys are age appropriate,” Rhodes’ report suggests.

Parents need to look out for dangerous toys

Besides counterfeit toys, the U.S. PIRG’s report states that parents should pay attention to these types of toys:

  • Second-hand toys. The group notes that the person getting rid of the toy, as well as the person buying the toy, may not have checked to see if it had been recalled. 

  • Noisy toys. The organization said four of the five toys it tested made so much noise that they could hurt children’s hearing.

  • Toys that could be ingested. As an example, the U.S. PIRG pointed out that Zen Magnets were recalled in August after years of controversy and injuries. However, there are still similar magnets available for sale that also cause problems.

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