There’s a lot to love about Amazon. You can shop at 3 in the morning. You never have to deal with finding a parking space. Plus, you’re scoring tons of products in different categories at prices that are often vastly lower than what you’d find in a brick and mortar store.
But sometimes those rock-bottom price tags mask a potentially dangerous problem. “Large online retail hubs are often the source for selling counterfeit, expired, or stolen goods,” cautions Sydney Ziverts, health and nutrition investigator for ConsumerSafety.org, a group that provides recall and safety information about drugs, food, and other products to consumers. Since sites like Amazon allow you to buy from third-party vendors, “You want to be sure you're purchasing from the actual manufacturer and not a criminal using a similar company name.”
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So even though it can be hard to resist what feels like an unbelievable bargain, here are six items you might not want to order from a random seller on Amazon.
The so-called morning-after pill is available without a prescription. Yet that doesn’t mean it’s safe to buy online rather than a local drugstore. According to some alarming reports that came out earlier this month, people who purchased some brands of emergency contraception from Amazon vendors discovered that the expiration date on the package had been rubbed off or altered. That means the pills could be ineffective . . . if not harmful.
Found your favorite high-end mascara for a steal? That could be because it’s a counterfeit version. Fake makeup and pefume has become serious business for online-only retailers, according to a release from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Not only are many of these products made in subpar factories, but they could contain toxic chemicals (think: arsenic), potentially leaving you with ugly side effects.
Vitamin and mineral supplements
Nutritional supplements are big business online—for counterfeiters as well. “Scammers can easily change the date on a package to extend the expiration date,” Ziverts points out. An expired product at best just won’t work; at worst, it can be dangerous, so steer clear and look for supplements in stores with good reputations.
Just as scammers can easily change the expiration date on supplements, they can also fudge the “use by” date on sunscreen. True, you’re not ingesting your SPF. But “as sunscreen ages or is exposed to too much heat and moisture, its other ingredients dissipate and interact with each other, causing them to lose sun-blocking properties,” says Ziverts. Using an expired lotion will increase your risk of burns and sun damage. A safer alternative? Spending a few extra bucks and buying sunscreen from your local supermarket or pharmacy.
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Imported skin-care products
If you’re hoping to treat a skin condition by purchasing a cream or serum from a company outside the United States that you’ve never heard of, buyer beware. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration reported a rise in skin-lightening and anti-aging treatments that are tainted with mercury.
This can appear on the ingredient list as “mercurous chloride,” “calomel,” “mercuric,” “mercurio,” or straight-up “mercury,” but sometimes no ingredients are listed at all. Pregnant and nursing women, as well as young children, are especially susceptible to mercury’s toxic effects.
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Protein powder can be pricey at your local supplement store or organic market, but the splurge is worth it. If you find it cheap online, “it’s almost certainly a counterfeit product and most likely doesn't contain the high quality protein you think you're purchasing,” Ziverts says.
Also, if you're buying from an unknown seller, you don't know where they're storing their products, she points out. “If they have buckets of protein power stored in a hot and humid warehouse, this increases the risk of bacterial growth or spoilage.”