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Fake Toys Pose Real Threats to Kids

Double check that light-up elephant from grandma before you add it to the toy bin. Better yet, show her ahead of time how to spot fake toys using these tips.

The store is not our friend right now. Crowded indoor spaces with long lines are the perfect recipe for catching COVID-19. This year, online shopping is the safest bet for everyone. Fortunately, it’s never been easier to find toys online. Unfortunately, according to the Toy Association and a new survey, those gifts might not be the real deal. Fake toys are rampant and even if they save you a buck, they’re not worth it. 

“If a company is going to go to the trouble of making something that’s counterfeit, they likely aren’t going to be complying with mandatory safety standards for toys,” says Joan Lawrence, the Toy Association’s senior vice president of standards and regulatory affairs. It’s time to wise up.

Nearly a fifth of the 1000 parents in the survey said their child has already received a counterfeit or knockoff toy purchased online, and an overwhelming 83 percent of parents suspect gifts given by grandparents and other older gift-givers are not from verified and trustworthy sellers. Even more surprising, 45 percent of parents reported that despite having suspicions about a toy’s safety, they would still let their child keep it – a number that has doubled since last year.

With more people shopping online this season due to the pandemic, it’s critical to be extra cautious before purchasing toys. To make sure you’re getting the safest products, there are a few things to keep in mind before making your purchase.

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First, avoid lesser-known sites with no reviews. These are a sign that you’re not in a good place to buy toys. If you can’t find the manufacturer name or the name of the seller, that’s another red flag that the Toy Association’s Play Safe initiative says to look out for. 

“Make sure that whoever the manufacturer is, they have their own website. If they don’t, it could be a red flag that this isn’t a permanent seller, or an experienced seller, or a legitimate seller,” says Lawrence. If you can buy from the website directly, that’s great. But if you’re buying from a marketplace that groups all these sellers together, one of the ways to figure out who’s a verified seller is to look for things like inconsistencies in the description of the product and poorly photoshopped images. Blurry photos or pixelated photos are another sign to exit out of the page. 

Second, if the price is too good to be true, ask yourself why that might be the case. Are they just having an awesome sale that’s advertised widely through legitimate sources? If not, be cautious. “If the price is too good to be true, that’s something you want to avoid too,” says Lawrence. 

Finally, pay attention to age limits. If a toy is not intended for kids under three, think twice about giving it to your kid if they’re under that age. It’s even more crucial to pay attention to age-based safety warnings, which, unlike age ranges, are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  Your best bet in these situations is to pay attention to what the labels say, and don’t buy the toy if there are no age requirements.

Finally, read the instructions on any gift received or purchased and assemble the toy according to how it’s meant to be used. For children that are too young to read or don’t want to read the instructions, demonstrating how best to play with the toy can help ensure safety, sort of like how flight attendants will demonstrate safety rules before a flight. Playing the toy together as a family is always best, not only because you can make sure it’s being used safely, but because playing together has developmental benefits for children. Also, it’s fun.

“Toys sold in the U.S., no matter where they’re made, have to comply with over 100 different safety standards and tests,” says Lawrence. “And they have to have been tested and certified compliant before they’re sold. But an illegitimate seller can side-step that because they’re doing everything illegally. That’s why you want to make sure you stick with a verified seller.”