SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As Americans increasingly turn to the internet to buy their kids' toys, an industry group is warning families to watch out. Counterfeit children's products are lurking everywhere, and those fake toys are more likely to fall apart, not work properly, or contain hazardous materials.
"It used to be only the hot toys got counterfeited,'' Steve Pasierb, CEO of The Toy Association. "Now all products get counterfeited. Even if the company is small and the toy is only modestly successful, there are nefarious sellers from China and around the world who are flooding the internet with counterfeit products."
With fewer retail toy stores out there, especially since the demise of Toys R Us, Americans are buying one-fourth of their toys online. And if shoppers are judging based on a picture and description, it's hard to know what they're getting.
"For toys you really want to have the experience of touching, feeling, testing the product out before you buy it,'' Pasierb said. "When you go online, you don't have that first-hand look."
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Last year, parents flocked to the internet to buy the popular Fingerling toys. Little figures like monkeys that wrap around the finger. Many who ordered online found they received knockoffs, whose parts fell off or had dye that would bleed.
Creators of fake products don't bother to try to meet the more than 200 safety standards the U.S. government requires for children's products. Among them, no lead in the dyes and no loose parts that can be swallowed.
Many of the counterfeits may be unsafe or at least not work properly. Toy industry leaders are cracking down so these counterfeits won't reflect badly on their legitimate products.
So, how can you spot a fake if you're shopping online?
Pasierb says the biggest tipoff is a cheap price.
"If anything puts up a red flag in your head, it's like, wait a minute (a product) is $30 everywhere and it's $8 here,'' Pasierb said. "My advice is to move away. It's not worth your child's health and safety just to save a few dollars. And it may not work right, so you risk breaking their hearts on Christmas morning too."
He recommends avoiding any product that's shipped to you directly from a foreign country. And look for grammatical errors in the online product description.
In addition, if a toy is sold out everywhere, then suddenly pops up on an obscure website, it could be a fake.
Pasierb says shop only on websites of retailers you trust. Sites like Amazon and Walmart are more carefully scrutinizing third party sellers after past problems, such as the faulty fidget spinners that flooded the markets last year.
Shoppers should also make sure toys they buy are not under recall. Pasierb says third party sellers, such as some on eBay, may not even realize a toy they're offering has been pulled off store shelves. The Consumer Product Safety Commission offers to send email alerts to consumers, notifying them of products as they are being recalled.