A counterfeit Darth Vader doll  that does not meat EU safety standards. Credit: Benjamine Stone – Flickr.com CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Many of us buy our toys for our little ones online, but could the seemingly safe product pose a serious health risk to your child?

On Monday, Salford Baby Bank – a charity dedicated to providing struggling parents with baby supplies – sent out a warning on social media regarding counterfeit toys being sold online this Christmas period.

Counterfeit toys do not meet the UK and EU safety standards and can often be dangerous to children as a result. They can have small parts that are choking hazards, malfunctioning electrical components that can catch fire, and toxic plastics that can cause a child to become ill if ingested.

These fake toys are hard to spot online. They sell at a lower price than official products, meaning that parents are inclined to buy them during the Christmas rush.

Erin Coussons, from Salford Baby Bank said: “Websites such as Ali Express and SHEIN are selling toys and counterfeit items that are manufactured outside of Europe that don’t comply with child safety legislations. These websites are becoming more and more popular because of their lower cost options to children’s items.”

A study conducted this year showed how widespread this issue is. The study, titled Don’t Toy with Children’s Safety, by the British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA), found that out of their sample size of toys bought from third-party retailers, 88% were illegal* to sell in the UK and 48% of the sample were deemed unsafe for children.

The BTHA’s report said, “While the problem of cheap, unsafe and fake products is not new, the growth of online marketplaces has significantly exacerbated the problem by giving third-party sellers a legitimate online shop window to the world, with little accountability and often limited traceability.”

The UK’s toy industry is worth £3.2 billion in 2021, so one can see why counterfeiters want in on the booming business.

Erin shared an example of a real parent that fell victim to a counterfeit toy bought online.

The image and reviews both suggest this product is legitimate, but a giveaway is the price that is much lower than official L.O.L. products. Credit: Erin Coussons

From the site, Ali Express, the toy pictured on the left appears as a bargain to an unsuspecting, desperate parent.

L.O.L. Surprise is a brand popular among young girls. Stock from the trusted manufacturer can sell out quickly around the holiday period.

This toy in particular is a small, plastic doll that could be one of many designs, encased in a plastic ball.

The real product that the parent received. The toy does not have an age rating and the small parts pose a serious choking hazard. Credit: Erin Coussons.

Pictured on the right, the received product is of a much lower quality than the legitimate product would have.

It does not have many of the design features of an official L.O.L. doll. The plastic could also contain toxins that can harm a developing child.

Erin said, “Third party ‘.co.uk’ websites are basically acting as a shop window for sellers around the world that don’t need to legally acquire to the child safety laws. ”

Sometimes such an innocent item can become deadly. In one tragic case, a young child lost their life after a helium balloon string became wrapped around their neck. By child-safety regulation, strings longer than 7 inches must come with appropriate safety warnings.

The disappointment and danger that comes with buying an an unsafe, counterfeit toy can be avoided by taking some necessary precautions. Erin shared a few.

Above are some of the symbols that prove a product is in line with safety regulations. These can be faked but most counterfeit items will not have any of them. Credit: Erin Coussons.

She said: “If parents are able to, then buy direct via the websites of well-known brand names.

“Look out for suspicious reviews. If they look like they’re copied from a toy’s leaflet, sound very similar or were written on the same day, they could be fake.

“Toys aren’t checked for safety before they’re sold by an online marketplace this is down to the manufacturer, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

The CE mark or Lion Mark show toys have been made to approved standards. However, some unscrupulous companies can fake them – so if you already have concerns, don’t rely on these alone.

The government have a page on their website dedicated to helping parents avoid counterfeit toys online. Anyone looking for further guidance, click here.

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