Counterfeit products on eBay, Amazon etc

Hi CHOICers!

I’ve had a tip off from some media colleagues that there may be some rising issues with counterfeit products on platforms like Amazon and eBay.

Have any of you had any experiences with counterfeits? Also keen to know what role you think the platforms should play in policing this - are they doing enough?

Would love to hear what you think.


I have had one experience where I bought a “Belkin” bluetooth adaptor/dongle about 4 years ago. I checked the photos from the seller on eBay and model being sold and also checked the specs on the Belkin website to make sure they met our needs. The genuine adaptor included analogue (stereo plug to RCA cable included) as well as an optical audio output. At that time I only needed the RCA connector to our old Hi-Fi system.

The seller confirmed that the product was Belkin so I purchased it. The Ebay product was out of Hong Kong and was about 25% less (inc. deliver) than purchasing from a local retailer.

On arrival, the packaging and product from first inspection looked okay/genuine but the adaptor did not have an optical output as specified for that model on the Belkin website (and the model shown on the bottom of the device).

After its arrival, I checked with Belkin if that model was supplied without optical audio output and got a response of ‘no’. They also advised that they were concerned about the number of ‘genuine looking’ counterfeit Belkin products appearing online, including eBay.

After confirmation the product was not genuine, I contacted the eBay seller to advise that the product was counterfeit and for the seller to arrange the refund of the product’s cost. I alluded that if the refund was not forthcoming, I would be reporting the seller to both eBay and Belkin. To my surprise the seller refunded the money very quickly and said I could keep the dongle. The seller also said that they did not realise the adaptor was not genuine.

I waited for the refund/seller response before calling Belkin. (I was concerned that if I reported it first, I might be I might be left with a counterfeit product which I had paid good money for and was effectively worth nothing).

Belkin thanked me for the information and didn’t hear back from them but noticed the product disappeared from the seller on eBay shortly thereafter…I assumed that Belkin had taken action or the seller had removed the product once I was shown to the counterfeit

At the time I approached Belkin with the counterfeit product information as I believed that eBay was unlikely to take any action, other than potentially removed the listed item. I thought that Belkin was more likely to be able to take action to protect other buyers from similar experiences. At the time, there were comments about other counterfeit products and eBay not adequately resolving. I am not sure if things have changed in the past few years as this is the only experience I have had.


I guess buying products from these sites their is that chance you can run into trouble.I don’t use eBay or Amazon


That’s interesting - sounds like you had to think really strategically about getting your money back first and then reporting it to Belkin.

I find eBay’s regular discount codes too enticing at times, but I tend to stick with the brand name sellers on there, so at least there’s a proper office I can call if something goes wrong.


When I reprogrammed our desktop and laptop computers earlier this year, I purchased 2 license keys for Microsoft Outlook 2016 from a UK vendor on eBay in 2 separate transactions for $19.50 and $16.99 respectively.

A month later, I purchased another license from another eBay vendor in the UK for 1.98 UK pounds, after which I received an email from eBay stating that they had removed the listing but that their actions would not affect my purchase.

I no longer have the emails regarding these transactions as they were lost during my computer nightmare, but I can see the payments on my PayPal account.

I can also view the feedback from these vendors. For some strange reason, both parties are listed on my eBay feedback page as “No longer a registered user”.

Both had very high positive feedback ratings. The first had been an eBay member since 2011 and the second had been a member since 2017.

Ah well. At least all 3 copies of Office 2016 are working a treat including the one I am typing this reply with.


If the price seems too good to be true, then it most likely it is. If one looks at retail prices such as Officeworks or authorised online sellers, one would quickly realise that these prices are too good to be true.

One also needs to think is it ethical to support the counterfeiters by buying their products?


There was nothing in the listings to suggest that the licenses were counterfeit, and the fact that the sellers both had very high positive feedback ratings with star ratings, and one had been a business seller for 7 years, certainly made them appear legitimate.

Additionally, they were merely selling license keys delivered by email.

Microsoft did not have any concerns with validating the licenses against the copies of Office 2016 that I downloaded from their website.

I just searched on eBay for “Office 2016 key” and received a lot of items from as little as $16.50 and stating it is genuine.

So what are you trying to say. Do not buy a license key from eBay vendors with high ratings, but go to Officeworks and pay through the nose to buy an out-of-date physical copy?


A relevant post from 23 March 2018:

With this MS software, only a valid key is needed. The s/w is downloaded from the MS site.

The listing, and pictures were showing the real product, and had assurances about the validity of the key.

After I received my refund the seller located in the UK disappeared from eBay.


This experience is kind-of back to front to the request … We deal with an Australian on-line hobby supplier who sources gear where he can. A little off his mainstream, he was offering cheap scan disks, flash cards, cords - then let us know he was getting a limited shipment of cheap generic tablets. We had already purchased a small tablet adapted as a GPS nav from him, years ago, dirt cheap & it’s still working. So we said yes to a <$200 generic - this was 4 years ago.

What turned up, to his surprise were genuine Samsung tablets. He is in the IT game and couldn’t fault them. Heaven knows how they ended up in a cheap job lot. He apologised for supplying Samsung when he had told us it would be unbranded, and for the delay while he checked that they were not stolen, re-manufactured or fakes. About 18 months ago the battery was dead when I tried to recharge it after not using for months. It was excellent value.


You have a point. I understand the adage that if it is too good to be true it probably is but in the case of something as ephemeral as a license key how do you judge the bona fides of the vendor on price alone? Do the big software houses publish lists of genuine retailers? Not that I have heard of.

Consider this hypothetical. Vendor A is in Australia and is subject to the “Australia Tax”. They have bricks and mortar shop chain with big rent, power and other overheads and staff with super and all their overheads. They don’t have a high turnover of keys.

Vendor B works out of his mum’s spare bedroom somewhere in SE Asia, he has some hardware and a ISP bill plus he gives his mum some money for power each month. He maintains his own domain and web site. He works 12 hours a day in his underpants at his computer shuffling electrons. He is an honest merchant, who buys in bulk and strips his profit margin to the bone but he has a big turnover and makes a good living by the standards of his society.

The price from B is a fraction of A. Why should we avoid B if his public rep is good?


Many times the keys may work for a period, but generally the keys will have been obtained and used illegally. MS have posted a number of times publicly about these issues, if the price is far below the recommended MS price on a current product you can be certain it is a “bad one”. Sometimes a seller may discount out of date software for cheaper pricing just to clear the stock but they will have lost money on the deal from what it cost them. The fact that it was an emailed code does not very materially affect the cost that the supplier of a genuine code had to pay for the code.

The fact that the trader had a high like is probably more due to the market that buys these risky black market codes than it does to their “honesty”. It may indeed be a reflection of their dishonesty instead.

The validation is generally an automatic process ie the software key is sent to a computer system that checks that the key is a correct sequence, has not been used more than the allowed times and that it has not been placed on a blacklist. If all the details are correct it will validate automatically (but in future it may have become blacklisted and will no longer validate).

A further scenario for validation/activation can occur where the key is of a particular OEM stock or has been used previously on a machine. In this case you may have to go through a phone system that checks a validation code created on your PC and if needed may require you to to advise that the product is being used in the proper re-installation of the product.

If this fails you then may speak to a human who can carry out further checks or allow re-validating of the product or will advise you need to purchase a new licence.

I think your validation was probably the first process and then less likely the second.

I have mentioned previously in this forum that buying some MS stuff from Russia can be much cheaper but it requires that you use a VPN to appear as if you are in Russia and you must validate using that “Russian” presence to have a successful activation (and not all Russian vendors accept non Russian payments). Once you have activated once in Russia you can generally re-activate elsewhere on a re-install or repair.

I think one business that surfaces a bit is Gamesdealer (they have many presences including .ru and I may be somewhat mistaken on the spelling of the name) and they certainly have sold “bad” keys.


Hi Fred, I just wanted to say that I love reading your messages. Thanks for taking the time. Karen


I do a lot of online shopping, and have only ever had two problems with counterfeits. In both cases I was looking at something on Ebay where the price was too good to be true, but I figured I may as well take the chance. In both cases I got refunds via Paypal (which was a hassle in the first case, but not so much in the latter - I suspect they have improved their processes over the years).

This is entirely reasonable. Microsoft sells many digital licences for its products, and also gives a lot away. For instance, MSDN members are able to access all versions of Microsoft’s operating systems. I’m not sure whether they do so via a licence key, but there would be plenty of other keys making the rounds at various MS functions and the annual MS ball. You may simply have found someone who had a product key they didn’t need.

A warning for anyone buying USB memory keys online: they can be set to report a different capacity to what they actually have. If the key you bought is doing this, then you are likely to lose data as it writes over previously written data. How can you check it? There is a program called H2testw (the link is to what I am fairly sure is its official website, which is in German, but the program will run in English), that writes data to the entire ‘claimed’ capacity and then tries to read it back - telling you if there are any errors. Interestingly, the author is now studying for his PhD at Monash University. Note: this software will run without installation - at least on Windows. If it offers to install, cancel out of it - you have downloaded a bad copy.

Finally, since I am on the subject, be careful to only download software from the original source or a source that you know you can trust - which does not include CNET. Many download sites are funded by adware and sometimes even malware that they package with the software you are seeking. One of very few non-origin sites I trust is Gizmo’s Freeware, because it is a community-run site that both reviews the software and warns about what other sites tend to package with it. Never download anything that you were not actually looking for.


I operated a business that built and operated internet kiosks for many years, starting with Windows Professional 2000, then with Windows XP, and finally with Windows 7, and all copies of Windows were legitimate.

When I heard that you could only validate XP so many times, I decided to test it, and sure enough, it was true, and I had to call Microsoft to reactivate 3 licenses.

Over the years whilst fixing nightmare problems, I sometimes needed to reinstall Windows several times, with the same result.

I once asked the Microsoft person if I would have to call them every time I had to replace a hard drive but she said that it would only happen if I replaced the motherboard.

However, my experience was that after a period of some months had passed, there were no problems in reactivating a license that I had previously had to call Microsoft about, even after replacing the motherboard.

It appeared to me that their database only stores multiple activations of license keys for a finite period of time and then resets itself.

I also recall looking at an eBay listing for 10 x Windows XP Certificate of Authenticity (COA) labels but I received an email from eBay that the listing had been removed before the auction had ended.

That was the only instance that I ever received any such message from eBay, apart from the one I included in my first post above,


I understand that they need to protect their business models (and fair enough) but wow, some of the anti-counterfeit measures are so convoluted and damaging to user experience!

As a casual gamer, Nintendo’s eShop is a shocker - I used to have my account on an ex-partner’s console, and the process to get legitimate purchases transferred off of the original Switch and linked with my personal account was horrific.


In my experience, this has been a major issue because there is such high profitability. It is not (just) recent. I purchase considerable online mostly to save driving time, and also because of lack of availability of some items in our relatively small market. Two areas on Ebay come to mind as bitter experiences. Essentially 100% of the USB memory sticks I have purchased there have been counterfeit. One not only mapped an 8Gb chip to a much larger size, but also included a virus which (tried to) load on first use. Such mapping makes the unit useless (without wasting major time). I don’t even try any more in this area (and keep H2TESTW on my desktop). I got one refund (Aus seller) who said he/she was unaware, which could be true, as sellers are always looking for gear to market at a profit. OS sellers, not hardly.

The other major area has been “bait and switch” ads, in my case particularly for auto spares. There will typically be a picture of a legitimate OE or OEM part (often with a specified quality manufacturer). There may be fine print saying “or some equivalent supplier”. Alternatively, you may just get a piece of junk, or you may get an email saying “gosh, we are out of this maker’s part, but we can give you XXX.” Magic, you pay for an OE part and get Chinese aftermarket. Having had to pull over on the Hay Plain because of these “quality” units failing rapidly, they are not (ever, in my experience) the same. For the manufacturers I try to get, again in my experience across 100’s of items, perhaps 20-30% of parts will end up not being what I have paid for.

“Made whole” … mostly never. A few times I have gotten a discount (belated) when a sub-quality part has been shipped. Some I’ve had to send back (in those cases, at my expense). Ebay seems to have delisted one clear bait-and-switch seller (in Germany) after my complaint, but I never got a refund. Also, for those sellers doing the email switch, when I ask for my money back, Ebay has set it up so that the instant they initiate this, the ability to leave feedback (warning other consumers) disappears … more magic. The “reason” which invariably comes up in the Ebay correspondence is “buyer cancelled order” rather than the truth, which was “seller tried to palm off garbage.”

In my view, while the seller should be responsible for performance of the item, Ebay (and equivalent) should be responsible for mis-representation since this is fraud, and they are effectively abetting fraud. How to enforce this across international boundaries … well, they certainly managed to find a way to charge GST across international boundaries, so I am thinking it is more than possible.


I only get books, cd’s and dvd’s online… now that Amazon USA doesn’t post to Australia, I refuse to shop on Amazon AU as everything is overpriced …it’s high way robbery.

Don’t shop on eBay as i’ve heard too many cases of peopel being cheated.


Whie it can happen to any of us a counterpoint is that if one is careful about who one buys from on ebay, the odds are usually in your favour. I have been buying on ebay regularly almost since its inception and only got stiffed once, although got partial recompense for an early failure before I realised what rubbish was delivered as each piece failed after brief use. The initially responsive vendor then ‘went missing’, including from ebay.

A more worrying situation is that even pharmaceuticals and auto/aircraft parts and fasteners have been successfully counterfeited and not discovered until serious consequences arose or something broke and was analysed or traced to the ‘supposed’ source, and the ‘supposed’ source reported ‘not mine’.


Looks like Amazon is as culpable as any online shop. All care to process a sale but not so much to enforce proper conduct. This is the original US Amazon but why expect any Amazon site is different?

BTW, a photo of Ivanka should be an instant give-away as to the probable veracity of the ad and product.