Fake Cosmetics on eBay and How to Avoid Getting Harmed

July 30, 2015 Updated: August 12, 2015

It’s a serious issue. A great deal of the makeup products sold on eBay are fake or illegally obtained, and some are potentially harmful to human health. 

And many of these fake products come from China, as was the case for the more than $1 million in fake MAC cosmetics sold by a Florida woman who was caught, and has now been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. As part of her sentence, she was also ordered to pay MAC $961,744.75.

Tina Oleszczuk, 45, of New Port Richey, sold the counterfeits over a two-year period through her company Cozmetic Delights LLC, to wholesalers, and via eBay, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida. The products were bought and shipped from a source identified only as “Lory,” in China. 

According to eBay, MAC cosmetics have been identified as one of largest groups of items likely to be counterfeited and sold online. More than 29,000 MAC makeup items are currently listed on eBay, but these are not via authorized sellers, and many are likely to be counterfeit.

According to a statement put out by MAC and posted on 10News in Florida, “We would like to explain that our products are distributed for sale only at our authorized retail store accounts (including certain direct TV sales), free-standing stores, and e-commerce sites. Products sold to our authorized accounts are genuine MAC.

“If a retailer is not one of our accounts, we have no control over the merchandise that they sell. Further, we have no way of knowing how they obtained our products. Therefore, we are unable to assume responsibility for unauthorized representation of our product,” the statement said.

A Carcinogenic Danger

Manhattan dermatologist Whitney Bowe said counterfeit cosmetics may contain carcinogens or heavy metals that can cause damage with repeated exposure. “For example, some counterfeit cosmetics have been shown to contain beryllium, a known carcinogen. Beryllium can cause local irritation, ulceration, granulomas,” she wrote via email.

Counterfeit cosmetics have also been demonstrated to contain mercury.

“Mercury compounds are readily absorbed through the skin and they can slowly accumulate in the body. They may cause allergic reactions or skin irritation on the way in, but sometimes they bypass those reactions and simply accumulate within the body,” she said. “Chronic exposure can affect taste, hearing, lead to blurred vision, and brain damage.” 

In addition, counterfeit perfumes have been shown to contain bacteria and even urine, Bowe wrote.

What to Do If You Have a Reaction to Counterfeit Makeup

According to Whitney Bowe: “First, try to find the culprit and cease using it immediately. Make an appointment to see your dermatologist, but while waiting for the appointment you can consider using an over-the-counter cortisone cream to help calm any itching and the associated redness caused by inflammation and irritation. If you see pus or feel pain, then avoid cortisones and use an antibiotic ointment instead. Also use gentle cleansers and then apply moisturizers that are fragrance-free to help the skin heal and restore the healthy skin barrier.”

EBay Sellers and MAC Products

Gsdtrading has been selling products on eBay since May 2015. The MAC products listed on this seller’s eBay store are sold at a price slightly below what you would pay in store or through an authorized online retailer. On July 30, the seller had listed large quantities of MAC Studio Fix Powder Plus Foundation, “more than 10 available/64 sold,” and large quantities of MAC Haute & Naughty Lash mascara, and liquid MAC foundations. The mascara, which retails at Macy’s for $22, is listed by Gsdtrading for just $12.99, with free shipping.

According to eBay, sellers with huge lots containing the same items may be selling counterfeits, especially selling limited edition items.

Gsdtrading has a customer rating of 85.7 percent, which is fairly poor for eBay. Three consumers who bought MAC powder foundation from this seller during the month of July left comments on the seller’s site that the product they received was fake, despite the products being labeled authentic in Gsdtrading’s listing.

Another eBay seller, bumble_bee_boutique_ca, is also selling multiple quantities of M·A·C Studio Fix Powder Plus Foundation, as well as quantities of MAC eye shadow and lipstick, and Essie nail polish.

EBay Data on Counterfeit Sales

  • Less than 0.025 percent of all listings hosted by eBay in 2014 were identified as potentially counterfeit products, which includes listings flagged by eBay using its own preventive tools, as well as through a third-party VeRO reports. Of course, after review by eBay, a significant number of the flagged and reported listings ultimately were determined not to be problematic.
  • eBay proactively removed over 60 percent of potentially counterfeit products, with the remaining listings removed at the request of third-party intellectual property rights owners. 
  • In 2014, more than 92 percent of reported listings were handled within 12 hours and more than 84 percent within 6 hours.

 Courtesy: eBay

Over the last six months this seller has received around 1,300 positive reviews from customers on eBay, with prices ever so slightly below retail. Customers have published no complaints of counterfeit goods on the store’s page. bumble_bee_boutique_ca opened this store on eBay in March 2015, but this seller previously operated under another name, pars-seifo, from September 2014 to March 2015. It is unknown why the user’s first store was shut down.

Avoiding Counterfeits

According to eBay, sellers with huge lots containing the same items may be selling counterfeits, especially selling limited edition items. Listings with prices that are considerably below retail are also probably not selling the real deal.

When you buy and sell on eBay, we have your back.
— Ryan Moore,global corporate affairs and communications , eBay

Ryan Moore, eBay senior manager of global corporate affairs and communications, said counterfeits are not welcome on eBay. “We utilize a combination of sophisticated detection tools, enforcement, and strong relationships with brand owners, retailers, and law enforcement agencies to effectively combat bad activity and present our customers with a safe, trusted shopping experience,” he wrote via email.

“In addition, for merchants in particular, eBay proactively partners with retailers and manufacturers to combat the sale of stolen or counterfeit goods,” he wrote. “Our extensive anti-counterfeit measures include the Verified Rights Owner Program (VeRO). Launched in 1998, VeRO allows brand owners to quickly and easily report possible counterfeits or copyright infringements. EBay promptly investigates each notification and we take appropriate action on reported listings.” 

More than 40,000 rights owners, ranging from global 500 companies to industry trade associations to small businesses, participate in the VeRO program.

“As a result of our detection capabilities and programs, more than 150 million active eBay buyers are able to shop with confidence among millions of global listings. In cases where an item is not as described or something goes wrong, eBay’s money back guarantee ensures buyers get the item they ordered or, in virtually all cases, they get their money back. Bottom line, when you buy and sell on eBay, we have your back,” Moore said.