It’s that time of year again when parents face long queues and mounting pressure to get their hands on this season’s must-have toys. It is also the time when counterfeiters try to cash in on the biggest toy crazes of the year.
The toy industry has not been spared by counterfeiters and each year toy manufacturers suffer massive revenue and job losses as a result of fakes flooding the market. Christmas is a particularly busy time for counterfeiters as the season's top toys fly quickly off the shelves - Hatchimal is this year’s hot product and has sold out almost everywhere, causing panicked parents to pay well over the retail price to get their hands on one. Spin Master who released the toy back in October were surprised by the success of the Hatchimal and have said they disapprove of the inflated prices being charged by some unauthorised sellers. Normally retailing at between $50-60, the toys are selling on Amazon for prices starting at $200.
In the UK, parents have been warned of Christmas scams over the new toy craze as online fraudsters have already tricked some shoppers into handing over their credit card details and counterfeit Hatchimals may hit the market soon. Talking to Mustard TV about Hatchimal fakes, Brian Chatten of Norfolk Trading Standards warned parents that if established retailers aren’t able to get their hands on the product then what is available is generally second-rate goods. He added: “You are at a much greater risk of buying a substandard product - a fake product, a copied product. It may be a safe product but may not be as good as the one your child wanted”.
Safety is still a huge concern when it comes to counterfeit toys - due to the lack of regulation some of these products can pose serious health risks to children. In the UK last year, imported counterfeit items which were confiscated by Trading Standards - including fake Frozen dolls, fancy dress makeup and Loom Bands - revealed unacceptably high levels of a chemical linked to cancer. Amongst the seized items were counterfeit dolls based on Disney’s Maleficent film which were found to contain 18 times the legal limit of the chemical phthalates. The chemical, used to make plastic softer and more flexible, can disrupt children's hormones and is linked to a number of long term illnesses, so is tightly controlled in its product use across Europe.
Safety concerns were also raised after a raid in the Manchester area by UK authorities three months ago which discovered thousands of fake toys destined for the Christmas market. It was estimated that there were £500,000 worth of toys seized in the raid including knock off Spiderman and Toy Story figurines, and counterfeit Disney dolls. Following tests it was concluded many of the items didn’t meet safety standards and some were deemed to be choking hazards. Contrary to industry regulations many of the toys seized also didn’t include the details of manufacturers or importers, or ID codes as required.
However in the chaos of Christmas shopping it can be hard to spot the tell-tale signs of counterfeit toys especially as they often bear trademarks very similar to that of the global toy brands just with ever so subtle misspellings such as ‘LEGQ’. And since LEGO’s recent collaboration in creating the Star Wars Krennics Imperial Shuttle is on this year’s most-wanted list, the brand may once again find low quality copies of its toy on the market this Christmas. The rebirth of the popular 90s Furby toy with Furby Connect, which is in high demand despite retailing at $99, makes for another prime target for counterfeits this holiday season. Given the shortage of Furby's in the run up to Christmas just a few years ago, counterfeit versions of the toy might start to appear in the coming weeks as official retailers run low on stock.
While shoppers have to be aware of counterfeits from high-street discount stores, the majority of fakes are purchased from online shopping sites or bought and sold through Whatsapp or social media. The rise of fake apps also poses a new threat to consumers and another challenge to retailers and brands this Christmas.