I tell pet owners often about the risk of fraudulent products purchased online. Sometimes I think that they look at me skeptically, like I am exaggerating the risk for my own benefit. Even with the advent of the A.W.A.R.E. program from FDA to help consumers protect themselves, I had no personal experience with counterfeit products… until now.
I recently acquired a phony flea control product purchased from a large well-known online retailer. The client was frustrated that the product did not work and returned it to her vet. The vet had no record of selling her the product and the story began to become clear. She then remembered that she had bought the product online. She was led to believe that the product was identical and that her vet was just ripping her off. She was being ripped off alright, but not by her vet!
It is so astounding to me that anyone would spend so much time and effort on duplication. There is obviously a lot of profit in forgery and clearly there is more revenue to be made from stealing someone else’s product recognition in order to pinch a pet owner’s cash, than in pioneering a product yourself.
Both the original manufacturer and the people who buy these products are being ripped off. I am going to share what I learned to help others avoid the same trap.
Here are some ways to check these types of products. My example is Merial’s Frontline Plus®. I have carried and used the genuine product for a long time. I purchase directly from Merial and have a sales representative who supports me in my purchase and I, in turn, support my clients. The company regularly updates their packaging to improve appeal and make sure that labeling complies with any new EPA label changes.
Is the packaging current?
In figure 1, the authentic packaging is the one shown on top. The lower one is an excellent forgery of old packaging. However in this case, the fake tubes say 2015, which would be impossible since this packaging was already retired by 2015. But for a consumer, the forgery looks very convincing.
Check the EPA registration numbers.
Merial puts EPA Reg. numbers on the ends of their boxes. The fake duplicate (Fig 2. fake shown on top) has no EPA number, but with thieves as skillful as these, I am sure that future generations of their fakes will sport a mimicry of these numbers. However, the EPA has a searchable database (click here) into which you can type a number to verify it.
Watch for inconsistencies.
My box says Frontline Plus on the outside, but the inner container says Frontline Combo. Frontline Combo is not a name legally used for products sold in the US and labeling must legally be consistent, so all components of a genuine product would be identical, inside and out. This difference is a warning sign.
Is the package childproof?
Merial’s packaging is childproof (and really difficult to open). The forgery was easy to open and not knowing what exactly was in the tubes made me very nervous around my family. It is also important that the EPA requires all components to be labeled identically so that they are accurate even if separated.
All labels must be identical
Note that the fraud product has one ingredient (fipronil) listed on the package shown on the left and another ingredient listed (methoprene) on the adjacent label for the next tube. This inconsistency is not legal and is a sign of a fraudulent product.
It is a red flag if the language anywhere on the box or packaging is not in English as well.
Genuine product has reminder stickers.
All Merial products include reminder stickers for the pet owner’s calendar to help insure compliance. The fraud product had no stickers at all.
I did my best assessment of the product itself because of the purchaser’s claim that it was ineffective. The fluid in the tubes (which incidentally looked strikingly similar) did not smell the same. The genuine one had the smell with which I am familiar, but the other one’s scent was reminiscent of rubbing alcohol with a hint of mineral oil. Actually, I hope that is all it is for the sake of this misled consumer’s dog.
Your best way to protect yourself is to purchase products like these directly from your vet. But it’s so much more expensive, you say. Sure, this product was cheap, but it didn’t work and the owner has now paid for the cheap product, had to drive to her vet and discuss, treat her dog again and now she has had to treat her home for fleas too. She has no clue what she has exposed her dog and her family to when she applied this fluid. She has no value, no peace of mind, and no customer service department to lodge her complaint or support her if her dog becomes ill.
Buying this type of product online is a gamble. Use these tips and photos to try to know if you have been robbed. If you think that you may have applied a fraudulent product to your dog, bathe him or her immediately (twice) with a strong detergent soap, like dish-washing detergent. (This is not what you would normally use to bathe a dog, but in this case, the surfactant in the detergent will hopefully break down the fake product and strip it from the hair coat.) Then notify your veterinary staff of your suspicions and they will advise you any further measures required for your dog’s health and also what you will need to do to provide the parasite protection you thought you had.
It is disheartening that there are charlatans out there trying to steal your money, but it is even worse that they could harm your dog.
“The bitterness of low quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.“ ~Benjamin Franklin