01/03/2024

Two top-selling nutritional supplement companies continue to search for the sources of counterfeit products that have been illegally sold on Amazon under their trusted brands.

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In April, both NOW Foods and Fungi Perfecti announced that they had found numerous fakes, all sold by unauthorized third-party sellers, and had reported the fraud to Amazon and the Food and Drug Administration. Upon further investigation, NOW determined that a third major supplement brand, which remains unnamed, was also robbed.

NOW identifies 11 knockoffs

Several consumers first alerted the company that NOW-brand supplements purchased through Amazon looked suspiciously incorrect. It turned out that there were 11 different products masquerading as NOW, all sold by a company called A2X1.

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A customer has been taking our Valerian Root Capsules for years and said that these capsules had no smell, were pure white with white powder inside, and were very small – four things wrong with a product, says Dan Richard, vice president of global sales and marketing at NOW Health Group. When we saw the actual product, it was shocking and alarming because it came from Amazon US

The company took immediate action. NOW reached out to Amazon in several ways because this was an emergency for our brand and a serious health concern for consumers, says Richard. We didn’t know what was in the capsules, we just knew it wasn’t the intended product. People had already consumed them and we have not reported any hospital cases to NOW.

NOW brand supplements bought through Amazon look suspiciously incorrect

When NOW tested the odorless white powder found in all 11 counterfeits, it turned out to be rice flour. Some products even contained traces of the drug sildenaphil, otherwise known as Viagra.

There was also a litany of gaffes about packaging and labeling. The bottles were of a different type than those used by NOW and did not include a lot number or the brand’s signature purple lids. Even the labels were wrong: too glossy, too elongated, too squared at the edges, too easy to peel off.

A2X1 also sold another brand, so we bought a couple bottles of this other major brand on Amazon and found the same little white capsules for products that didn’t match the label, says Richard. We communicated directly to try and help each other.

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NOW has asked Amazon to disable the fraudulent site and recall all defective products. It took two business days, but Amazon removed seller A2X1 and quarantined all fake inventory, Richard says. We were told that our counterfeit products came from Kenya and over 1,000 bottles have been sold. Amazon sent a destruction notice email to all buyers of these products, claiming they had information that the product was counterfeit. They also issued refunds.

NOW has also notified the Natural Products Association, which has alerted the United States Food and Drug Administration. At the same time, Amazon’s law fraud unit notified the Department of Homeland Security, and we had a meeting with both sides that same week, Richard adds.

Overall, Richard is pleased with Amazon’s response to the issue. They escalated this issue and communicated very well, with good details about our case, he says. Amazon and DHS say they plan to continue working with NOW on this case in order to prosecute the perpetrator.

Fungi Perfecti finds 23 fraudulent shop windows selling four counterfeit products

Fungi Perfecti finds 23 fraudulent showcases

Just 11 days after NOW reported its findings, Fungi Perfectly issued a press release detailing its own unrelated but equally serious case of fraud. The company discovered several rogue accounts on Amazon selling products marked as Host Defense Mushrooms.

Fungi Perfecti learned about bogus supplements through its rigorous brand control program.

Consumer safety is our top priority, says Betsy Bullman, director of sales and marketing at Fungi Perfecti. We work with expert external consultants to support e-commerce brand protection. Continuous monitoring of all sales channels is an integral part of our practice to identify potential unauthorized and counterfeit sellers.

During a recent investigation, the company noted numerous packaging irregularities and suspicious capsule contents with its MyCommunity 120-count, Stamets 7 120-count, Lions Mane 120-count, and Turkey Tail 120-count SKUs.

All four of the counterfeit products tested positive for known allergens gluten and soy, while the legitimate Host Defense Mushroom supplements are gluten-free and not formulated with soy. Besides that, most of the knockoffs have been packaged in black plastic bags, which Fungi Perfecti doesn’t use. The word multi was even misspelled on the fake MyCommunity labels.

While the NOW knockoffs came from only one third-party vendor, Fungi Perfecti identified a total of 23 Amazon storefronts selling counterfeit host defense mushrooms.

Upon confirmation of two known allergens in the counterfeit product, we immediately reported these findings to the FDA and Amazon, Bullman says. Amazon has since removed the counterfeit products from its store and notified affected customers.

Tip of the iceberg

NOW and Fungi Perfecti are definitely not the only supplement brands to be taken down on Amazon, and the problem extends far beyond this category. According to Amazon’s third annual brand protection report, released in April, the platform eliminated 6 million counterfeit items in 2022 alone.

But as far as supplements go, Richard calls the problem widespread. Although he says this is the first time NOW has encountered a problem in the United States, the company has weathered significant counterfeiting issues globally for years.

Some countries are particularly problematic, even though we haven’t seen problems in areas we’d suspect, Richard explains. Saudi Arabia and Brazil have been our biggest problems and the problems are getting worse. Scammers are getting very sophisticated with exact brand labeling and we sometimes have trouble distinguishing the counterfeits ourselves.”

As far as what brands can do to mitigate risk, investing in strong brand enforcement efforts like Fungi Perfectis is certainly wise. But even that may not completely eradicate the problem.

This is very difficult and we don’t have the answers yet, says Richard. NOW is looking into anti-fraud measures and there are a few options. Amazon is also working on counterfeit measures and NOW may be part of a test group in the near future. Unfortunately, we will have to put a lot of effort into preventing future fraud and I don’t expect this to be easy or cheap.

Anyone with information about these fraud schemes should call NOW at 800-999-8069 x 2 or Fungi Perfect at 877-504-6926.

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