A spate of fake websites has been trying to catch out consumers by pretending to be official retailers of cycling products.
Recently, Germany’s tyre-giant Schwalbe has been imitated in this complex scam, and it’s not the only one, with the likes of SRAM, Shimano and Cane Creek all being affected in the past.
These scams are more common (and sophisticated) than ever, so here’s what you can do to spot fake goods and websites so you don’t get caught out when parting with your hard-earned cash.
A spate of fake websites
Fake e-commerce websites have become one of the most common scams in the world of cycling retail.
These websites are often well-designed and can be hard to distinguish from legitimate businesses, according to Schwalbe.
“In recent months, several cases have occurred in which e-commerce sites make reference to Schwalbe in prominent places: with the logo, product photos or even entire item descriptions. This suggests that it is an official Schwalbe store. These deceptively genuine-looking fake shops are used to defraud buyers, who pay money but never receive any goods,” says Schwalbe.
Schwalbe isn’t the only brand to have been used in this scam. The UK brand DMR Bikes has also been targeted by a fake, direct-to-consumer website under the name dmrdiscount.com.
“The website was using our brand name, logo and product photos without our permission – they also claimed to hold in stock products we were unaware of.
“It was very well done and well put together as well, our web tech team looked into it in detail, and it all looked quite legit and [was hosted on] on an e-commerce platform. The lP location tagged it to a random building in the USA – somewhere we’d never heard of,” a DMR Bikes representative explains.
The fake DMR Bikes website appeared to be selling branded products, often at an attractively low price point.
“Some of the prices were way too cheap to be believed – that should be another red flag for consumers. If the deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is,” they explain.
“We don’t deal with mass discounters or stack-em-high merchants, our DMR retailers have to be qualified to deal with DMR,” the brand rep adds.
What are bike brands doing about fake retailers?
In order to protect their customers, manufacturers such as Schwalbe are investing in software to monitor the use of their brand name, flagging up potential scam websites, which are then liable to legal action.
“To protect its clientele from fraud, Schwalbe has taken various measures. Firstly, a permanent domain monitoring program is underway, which searches the internet for sites that make reference to Schwalbe and thus create the impression that they have a business relationship with the brand,” says Schwalbe.
Schwalbe takes legal action against fake shops. It says several incidents of fake shops have already been concluded in this way and the websites are no longer accessible.
With many fake websites still pushing counterfeit goods – and more bound to appear – it’s wise to keep the following steps about how to spot fake websites and fake goods in mind.
How to spot fake websites
Just like buying a second-hand bike, the first step to protect yourself from scams is to exercise a healthy amount of common sense. If a product’s price is way below the market average or you’re not entirely certain the website you are using is legitimate, there are a few key things to look out for before parting with your cash.
1. Check the domain name
The first port of call to find out if you are on a legitimate website is the domain name. Fraudulent websites will often use a well-known brand’s name. However, with a bit of research, it will be easy to tell if you have landed on an unofficial website.
A classic example of this is the fake DMR Bikes site mentioned above – a quick bit of research will reveal that the only official DMR website is dmrbikes.com.
2. Browse the website
Take a look around the rest of the site. Are there other products for sale? Do the rest of the items on offer make sense?
Poorly phrased sentences or other grammatical errors are also signs that the site may not be what it claims to be. Reputable online shops should also have an ‘about us’ section with contact details and returns policies.
3. Check the contact details
A third method to determine the legitimacy of a site is to try out its contact details. Email addresses and phone numbers on fake sites often lead nowhere and are a good indicator of scams.
4. Check the payment methods
Another indicator of the authenticity of a site is the payment methods it offers.
Schwalbe advises that sites offering only a bank transfer prepayment option are a warning sign. These payment methods leave you with little-to-no chance of getting your money back in the case of a scam.
5. Is the site encrypted?
A padlock symbol next to the site’s URL indicates that it is encrypted, meaning the information or payment details you enter can’t be intercepted.
Encryption is expected from all genuine e-commerce platforms, so the lack of a padlock symbol is a red flag.
6. Check review sites and social media
If you’re unsure whether a site is real, it’s likely you’re not alone. Checking review platforms and a website’s presence elsewhere on the web can alert you to whether it is genuine or fake.
“Look for things like Trustpilot reviews, do some homework on the site and if it’s truly legitimate. What’s their social presence like, are they on Facebook and are customers commenting favourably?”, suggests the DMR Bikes representative.
How to spot fake goods
Alongside fake websites, it’s worth knowing how to spot counterfeit goods.
There are a few ways of telling a genuine product from a counterfeit. The first option is to check if the manufacturer has any guidelines in place already.
Specialized has been plagued by copycat products and it has been reported the brand seized £270,000 / $430,000 worth of goods in 2017.
The brand has a webpage dedicated to the subject, which highlights the key differences that set its own products apart from fakes.
Official guidelines aside, there are a number of tell-tale signs a product may be fake.
1. Lack of authentic stickers or branding
Counterfeit products often lack authentic stickers or branding. If you’re looking at a bike, for example, which doesn’t have a brand’s usual font, badge or logo it’s likely a fake.
2. Misspelt words or brand names
Misspelt words or brand names are also red flags. While the product may seem convincing at first, a closer look may reveal a different story.
What you initially thought was a Specialized product may in fact be a Spacialzzed, which is one of the examples listed on Specialized’s counterfeit awareness webpage.
3. Poor construction or quality control
Genuine products are often worlds apart from their fake counterparts when it comes to construction and quality control.
If possible, look out for a unique serial number – these are often found under the bottom bracket of frames. In the past, SRAM has warned against counterfeits without serial numbers.
4. Hugely discounted prices
Once again, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. A quick browse of the market will give you the average price for whatever product it is you are after. If the site you are on is selling it for considerably less, exercise caution.
What should you do if you spot a fake website or product?
If you spot a fake website or product, you should avoid making a purchase, regardless of how attractive a deal may look.
Fake goods can be seriously compromised when it comes to safety, particularly with fake bicycle helmets, and you don’t want to lose money or hand over data to imitators.
Specialized encourages you to get in contact should you suspect a retailer to be posing as Specialized or selling fake goods.
You can also report fake websites. In the UK, you can do this via the National Cyber Security Centre. In the USA, you can contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center.