- Amazon Prime Day is on July 15 and 16.
- Ahead of the shopping bonanza, Rachel Johnson Greer, a former Amazon product safety program manager, shared with Business Insider some red flags that show your purchase might actually be a scam.
- Some aren’t so obvious — like checking a product description’s punctuation.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Amazon Prime Day is nearly upon us.
Before snagging some of the crazy deals — like discounted Beats headphones and up to 50% off women’s fashion — it’s key to check that what you’re buying is legitimate. Rachel Johnson Greer, a former Amazon product safety program manager, said the amount of scams on Amazon have been sinking in recent years, but there are still some misadvertised products out there.
Johnson now advises Amazon sellers on marketing their products and ensuring they’re up to safety snuff as a partner at Cascadia Seller Solutions.
“As a former safety person at Amazon, I really care about the product safety space,” Johnson told Business Insider.
“A lot of my clients are trying to do the right thing, making sure their products are safe, making sure their customers are taken care of,” Johnson said. “But there are a lot of people in this space who are cheaters and liars. I actually spend a lot of time talking about safety problems on Amazon and where Amazon is falling down on this, what they could do to be better.”
Amazon did not provide a comment to Business Insider for this article.
Here are seven signs that your Amazon purchase is actually a scam — and one way you can easily sidestep those issues:
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The product is ‘FDA-approved’… but it’s not food or a drug.
Food, food ingredients, medical devices, some homeopathic products, and drugs can all be “approved” by the Food and Drug Administration.
“That’s a really limited list,” Johnson said. “And yet you will see things like a silicon chewing thing for kids and it says FDA approved.”
Nothing else can be FDA approved. And if a product that doesn’t match that list says it was recommended by the FDA, Johnson said it’s probably just throwing in buzzwords to pay lip service to sounding more sellable — but it’s not necessarily safe.
Or the product is ‘CPSIA-approved.’
There’s also the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), passed in 2008, which broadened the scope of the 47-year-old federal agency called the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
The CPSIA is a law, and can’t approve anything. And the CPSC, a federal agency, would never recommend a product. It would just certify a children’s product or a consumer product — like blinds, fridges, bikes, blinds, and so on — to be used in US markets.
Yet Johnson says she sees language like that all the time in product descriptions.
“If I see CPSC-approved or CPSI-approved, that’s an immediate kind of, oh, you have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said.
The same product isn’t on Walmart.com.
If you’re buying a brand you’re not familiar with, check that it’s in stores or online at Walmart. The retail giant had issues with compliance and product safety in the 2000s, and stepped up its game in that regard to prevent further scandals.
“Walmart has one of the best, most stellar compliance programs in the country,” Johnson said. “And if it’s in Walmart, if you’re good to go. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
Johnson also recommended checking out Target’s stores or website, too.
The reviews are fake.
Fake reviews that are paid for by the seller are still frustratingly common on Amazon, Johnson said. Around 39% of reviews on cell phone accessories were fake in June 2019, up from 16% in June 2017.
And they only spike around Prime Day, according to a Mashable report.
It’s difficult to suss out fake reviews yourself, but luckily there’s a website called Fakespot that analyzes Amazon reviews for their authenticity.
One of the most-fake-reviewed products on Fakespot is a hair straightener from drugstore mainstay Remington. The $20 flat iron gets a nearly-five-star rating with more than 5,800 reviews on Amazon, but Fakespot says just 18.9% of those reviews are real.
Johnson’s top red flag: The product description doesn’t have spaces after commas
“I know this sounds silly, but the number one red flag that I look for is, do they have a writing that has a comma with no space after it?” Johnson told Business Insider.
Basic grammar and punctuation mistakes indicate the product is being manufactured or fulfilled from outside of the US and might be able to fly under the radar of US counterfeit laws, Johnson said.
Of course, being fulfilled from outside the US isn’t an indictment in itself, but poorly-written, mistake-ridden product descriptions are a red flag — especially when taken into consideration with other anomalies on the page like bizarre pictures or weirdly-laudatory reviews.
“The advice that I would have for people when they’re trying to decide what to buy is: avoid the comma and no space,” Johnson said. “Okay, hit back. Don’t even read it.”
If those ‘100% bamboo’ sheets seem like a great deal, they’re probably actually rayon.
Johnson said a lot of “100% bamboo” fabric you see online is actually synthetic rayon that’s made from bamboo-originated cellulose. The Federal Trade Commission fined retailers including Nordstrom and Bed, Bath & Beyond $1.3 million in 2015 for selling bamboo-in-rayon’s-clothing sheets.
Outside the US, Johnson said the legal checks on apparel, bed linens, and other fabric products that are manufactured and imported are lacking. So super-cheap bamboo goods, which might be made outside the US, might actually just be rayon.
And keep in mind rayon is ultra-flammable.
“If you’re out having a great time for July 4th, you’re next to the fire, and suddenly your clothes catch on fire because the fabric is too flammable, you have a problem — right?” Johnson said. “People don’t think about like small things like that. But 100% rayon is extremely flammable.”
Be super-careful around cosmetics that are coming from abroad
The FDA doesn’t have any laws on the books for cosmetics shipped from abroad — so keep that in mind when buying skincare products from South Korea, France, and the like.
Johnson said if something seems like a steal — like brand-name sheet masks that are half the price than they typically are — it’s probably too good to be true.
She has one client who was buying eyeshadow from abroad to cut corners and selling it on Amazon. More and more reviews came in on the discount eyeshadow that said that the product was giving them red eyes.
Johnson got the product tested, and it turns out it had traces of a bacteria that can cause sepsis.
Above all, to be extra cautious, look for ‘Shipped and sold from Amazon.com’
Not just “Fulfilled by Amazon.” That only means Amazon ships the product.
“Some sellers ship their stuff into Amazon for them to ship because Amazon’s network is so big that it’s really convenient,” Johnson said.
But it doesn’t mean the retailer fully backs that the product is kosher.
“Anything that’s sold by Amazon, they do some checks of their own and make sure that insurance requirements are met, that sort of thing,” Johnson said. “Amazon takes legal liability for it. They have done their due diligence.”
If it’s a big purchase or a brand you’re unfamiliar with, checking that in the “Buy Now” box that it says “Shipped and sold by Amazon.com” provides an extra layer of protection and insurance.