Shoppers rushing to find Fingerlings, the robotic monkeys that are a hot toy this holiday season, say they've been fooled into buying fakes through outside sellers on Amazon and Walmart.com.
The real Fingerlings, 6-inch multicolored monkeys, wrap around a finger, move, and make sounds. They usually cost about $15 but are sold out at many stores and websites. And counterfeiters have taken advantage of the shortage using the Amazon and Walmart.com platforms.
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Keeping fake or objectionable merchandise off the sites' third-party marketplaces is a long-standing issue, and toy sellers post warnings to beware of knockoffs, particularly with in-demand toys. In this case, though, the fraudsters have been quite successful: Postings for phony Fingerlings were on Amazon's best-selling toys list several times in the last two weeks.
Shoppers say they don't realize they bought knockoffs until they receive toys that don't move or are poorly made. Counterfeit toys may also present safety issues, one expert says. And some people say they've had a hard time getting refunds from the sellers.
"I can't give this to my grandkid," says Amy Stepp, who paid $17 on Amazon for what she thought was a real Fingerlings toy.
What she got was a bright pink monkey that didn't move at all. Instead, it lit up, which the real one doesn't do. Stepp, who lives in Holden, Louisiana, says the box looked like it had been opened and taped back together again. When she told the seller she wanted to return it, she was told it may a take long time and was offered $10 back. Amazon gave Stepp a full refund after The Associated Press asked about her order, and the company says it will refund those who bought counterfeits if they contact Amazon customer support. Typically, refunds and returns are handled by the seller.
"Amazon does not tolerate fraud and counterfeit," the company says, adding that it works to improve the way it detects and prevents fakes "from reaching our marketplace."
Stepp is still looking to buy authentic ones online for her 2- and 4-year-old granddaughters for Christmas. "I am reading fine print from now on," she says.
WowWee, the company that makes authentic Fingerlings, says it is aware of the counterfeit problem. The company sued 165 counterfeiters last month, and CEO Richard Yanofsky says the company has notified customs officials around the world to try and stop fakes coming from China, where the authentic ones are also made. WowWee's website warns visitors about buying from third-party sellers, and "strongly" advises them to only make purchases labeled "sold & shipped" by Amazon.com or Walmart.com.
"We know Fingerlings is a high-demand toy, and we're working very closely with our retail partners to ensure stores are stocked this holiday season," WowWee says.
Counterfeiters typically focus on products that are sought after, knowing that they can sell them quickly on third-party marketplaces before they get caught, says James Thomson, a partner at Buy Box Experts, a consulting group that helps online sellers with marketing.
"It's hard for retailers to detect," Thomson says.
Counterfeiters may bypass safety standards, and the knockoffs could contain lead, have small parts that are choking hazards or have sharp edges, says Richard Gottlieb, a consultant at Global Toy Experts.
"The biggest danger is that it's an unsafe toy," he says.
Eva Veilleux of Danvers, Massachusetts, paid $66 for what she thought were three real Fingerlings on Walmart.com for a holiday fundraising auction for her 18-year-old grandson's school. When they showed up, the brand wasn't on the box, the packaging looked like it had been crushed and the instructions inside were only in Chinese.
"I knew right away it wasn't authentic," says Veilleux.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. says it takes these issues "very seriously," has removed sellers from its marketplace and is offering customers refunds.
Veilleux says the seller refunded only half of what she paid. She later bought authentic Fingerlings through a seller on Facebook. "Live and learn," she says.
Contact Joseph Pisani at http://twitter.com/josephpisani