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When counterfeit goods can pose a health hazard

Consumers who don’t want to dole out for an authentic Rolex watch or Louis Vuitton handbag can find counterfeits relatively easy on the Internet. Some buy a fake by mistake.

Counterfeit consumer goods cost the global economy up to $250 billion a year, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Government agencies wage a never-ending war on these goods, yet only catch a fraction of the counterfeit goods that enter the U.S.

For the most part, it’s an economic battle, not one that endangers anyone physically. However, National Public Radio reported recently on the risks posed by counterfeit bicycle helmets that don’t come close to passing standard safety tests.

Shattered Helmets

In one such test at Specialized Bicycles in Northern California, a counterfeit helmet fails several tests, including one that mimics a bicyclist’s head hitting a curb. In that one, the fake helmet broke in half. Specialized Bicycles tester Clint Mattacola says if a rider would have had a similar accident wearing the counterfeit helmet, he or she would have likely suffered a skull fracture, brain damage or death.

These helmets are primarily manufactured overseas and sold over internet sites like eBay. It could be difficult to track down a manufacturer and file an injury lawsuit, so it is important to be a careful buyer to ensure you are getting an authentic, tested helmet. Here are some tips from Specialized Bicycles to avoid buying a counterfeit bicycle safety helmet:

Look for stickers of authenticity – Counterfeit helmets often have logos implying they passed European standards, but they do not have the interior stickers that indicate they met the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission standards.

Cheap plastic retention devices – Many counterfeit helmets have plastic fit retention devices on the inside that are made of cheap, stiff plastic. The fake helmets are typically lighter than the models they are trying to pass as, in part because they lack a reinforcement roll cage – an internal fiber skeleton that holds the helmet intact upon impact.

Lower price – You get what you pay for. If you see an offer online for a $50 helmet that normally costs $200 or $250, that should raise red flags. However, price alone is not a giveaway. Many counterfeits are sold at or near the full price of authentic helmets.

Experts advise consumers to buy from reputable retailers, whether you are purchasing online or at a physical store. A good price is always enticing, but when it’s for a helmet to protect your head or the head of someone you love, paying a premium and looking for signs it is authentic provides a sense of comfort.

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