Investigators with Homeland Security say you should think twice before going online to buy Lululemon athletic wear. You could be giving your information to an overseas scammer. And the clothes you get will not be Lululemon.
Even men know Lululemon is huge with girls and women. But the ultra-popular yoga-inspired athletic wear is also expensive. A simple hoodie will typically cost more than $100, which is why a lot of people shop for sales. A sale is exactly what one local woman was searching for when she found a website with the name lululemonoutlet.us.com. It looked authentic. It had the famous Lululemon logo along with the popular styles and the typical outlet discounts.
The woman, who asked not to be identified, says she ordered a purple hoodie with an outlet price of $69.99. The package was delivered within days, but right away there were big red flags. The merchandise bag looked okay -- a clear plastic bag with the Lululemon name and logo. But instead of the purple hoodie she ordered, she got a black, hoodless jacket, plus a pair of cheap plastic sunglasses she didn't order. The glasses were in a cheap case plastered with the iconic design of Coach. Why would Lululemon send you anything from Coach?
The jacket had a Lululemon logo on the main zipper pull, but none on the other zippers. The signature Lululemon logo-shaped seams were puckered. And on closer inspection there were glaring spelling errors on the product description tags- using the word "chir" instead of chin. And "wirsts" instead of wrists.
"Counterfeiters will counterfeit anything that they can make money on," said Brad Bench, Special Agent in charge at the Homeland Security Investigations office in Seattle.
Bench says designer counterfeiters are duping people with all kinds of fake websites, from designer clothing and shoes, to accessories and necessities and even toothpaste.
Beyond the risk of ending up with sub-standard knock-offs, investigators say people who buy from counterfeit websites are giving their credit card and personal information to organized criminals. They also risk getting products that do not meet American safety standards for things like flame retardants, lead and toxic chemicals. Bench says the chances of getting your money back from any of the sellers after you learn you bought from a fake website are about zero.
"These counterfeiters are in the business to defraud consumers and they want your cash, and they got it in this instance and they'll probably keep it," Bench emphasized, urging consumers to carefully inspect the website before making any purchase.
"Homeland Security Investigations has a program called 'Operation In Our Sites' that targets the websites that sell these types of products. And if we identify that there are counterfeit products, we'll seize that domain name and effectively shut the website down, so no further consumers can be defrauded," he added.
Bench urges anyone who suspects a website may be an unauthorized copy-cat site selling counterfeits to pass the information along.
"Go to ice.gov and enter a tip on the website. That gives us a starting point to start working these types of investigations," Bench explained.
Just remember, the investigations take time. And there are hundreds, if not thousands of bad websites out there. And for every fraudulent site that gets shut down, others pop up in their place. Beyond that- most of the counterfeit scammers are overseas, in China.
To give you an idea of how prolific these scams are, last year Lululemon identifed at least 50 counterfeit websites believed to be run by 9 people in China. The official Lululemon website now warns customers about the fraud and lists the only authorized websites you should go to if you want to buy authentic Lululemon Athletic products.