At your own risk

A charger that burned down a house. Lips swollen unrecognisable due to a filler. Weight-loss product containing a designer drug. Children’s clothing that includes strings that could choke a child. Laser equipment that is dangerous to eyes. These are all real example of dangerous product that have come to the attention of authorities after consumers have purchased products directly from abroad.

Remember: When you order from outside the EU you are responsible for the product.  In such cases, there is no responsible party in Europe, which could be contacted to return the dangerous product or demand compensation.

For various product groups the price may be an indicator of quality – it is hardly likely that you will get a decent product at the cost of postage.

Video: Charger

Video: Weight-loss product

The purpose of this website is to offer tools for online shoppers for choosing safer products online. Fourteen different authorities and other organisations are taking part in the At your own risk campaign (link to the Involved in the campaign page). Below you can find product-group-specific tips for what to take into account when buying products online.

Reselling

When you purchase a product from outside the EU with the intent of reselling the product your responsibility is even greater. You may be viewed as the importer of the product. This means that you are responsible for the safety of the product you sell.

Information on the role of the importer:

Pirated products and counterfeid goods

The postal traffic supervision of the Finnish Customs deals with illegal items daily. Illegal weapons, drug and doping are part of the everyday life of Customs officials and so are counterfeit goods. Increase in online sales can also be seen in the number of counterfeit goods the Customs discovers.

Over 80 percent of counterfeit goods come from China or Hong Kong. Counterfeit products cannot always be recognised by their cheap price because they are often sold with a small discount, leading the consumer to think that they got a bargain.

The list of counterfeit products is endless. A counterfeit handbag or item of clothing may cause serious health hazards, whereas fake cosmetics or insufficiently protected electrical products may even lead to death. There is no reliable scientific information available on counterfeit products.

Counterfeit business is run by organised criminal organisations because the profit margin is high and the punishments lenient. In order to maximise their profits, counterfeiters use the cheapest materials available, which means that products may contain substances such as dangerous or harmful chemicals. By purchasing counterfeit goods, you are financing human and drug traffic and terror attacks.

For more information on counterfeit products visit the website of the Finnish Customs.

How to indentify a safe online store

Not all online stores and sellers using international online store platforms are reliable. Be sceptical of an online store if

  • contact information for the seller is missing or insufficient.
  • there is not enough information on the features of the product which could help determine safety of the product, for example.
  • you cannot find comprehensive and clear information on the price, warranty and right of cancellation.
  • the website redirects you to another website when placing an order.
  • an offer seems too good to be true.
  • the web address of the online store is completely different from what you would expect from an online store.
  • you have any doubts at all on the reliability of the website you should not accept the installation of any browser extension or font file suggested by the online store. An online store operated by a poorly protected or malicious party may inject malware to a visitor’s computer or trick the visitor to install malware.
  • the online store’s information security is poorly maintained. In such case, there is a danger that any personal information given by a visitor may leak to outsiders. Criminals are particularly interested in numbers and control numbers of credit cards. You should favour online stores with a marking indicating that it complies with the safety practices of your credit card provider (e.g. Verified by Visa).
  • you are paying using an online bank transfer or with a credit card issued by your bank make sure that the website to which the online store directs you to in order to confirm your payment truly is your bank’s online service and not a copy of it. Make sure that the domain name displayed in the address bar of your browser belongs to your bank and that data transfer is encrypted.

Remember that fraud is a crime even in online stores and see FICORA’s blog for more tips for safe online shopping (In Finnish).

Refund

You order branded products with a super discount or other bargain. When your package arrives, the box reveals fake products instead of famous brands.

Getting a refund from an online store operating outside the EU may be difficult, unless you have used a credit card. Consumer authorities will also not be able to help you as easily as with online stores operating within the EU.

Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (FCCA)

European Consumer Centre Finland

 

Subscription traps

Weight-loss pills, teeth-whitening products, eyelash extension products, sleep-inducing products and very cheap brand products are just some examples of the type of products involving subscription traps. In typical cases, a free or extremely cheap trial batch is offered initially, but this surreptitiously leads to a longer and more expensive subscription.

The trap will only be set off once the consumer receives an invoice for the product in question. The invoice is always completely different from the cheap price which the consumer thought they had undertaken to pay. Carefully read the order confirmation and contract terms and conditions. The order confirmation should correspond to what you think you have ordered. If this is not the case, issue a complaint to the company immediately and notify them that the invoice is unjustified because you have not ordered the product in question.

The capabilities of consumer authorities to help you, if things do not go as expected, often depend on the domicile of the company. Getting a refund from an online store operating outside the EU may be difficult, unless you have used a credit card. Consumer authorities will also not be able to help you as easily as with online stores operating within the EU.

Remember

  • If an offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is!
  • Find out who you are dealing with by assessing the reliability of online store and the information provided by the seller.
  • Never order products online without reading the contract terms and conditions.
  • If you pay with a credit card you can claim charges made without your consent from your credit card company.

List of links

Consumer tip: Learn to recognise scams and subscription traps

Online shopping checklist  or Checklist: Before you order online

Checklist: If you have fallen into a subscription trap

Learn to recognise scams

Beware of scammers online!

 

Enviromental impacts

Emissions from the manufacture and delivery of packages burden the environment.  Returning or replacing a product increases the environmental and climate impacts of the product even further.

Legislation that helps ensure safe use of chemicals is in force in the EU. All countries do not have similar legislation in place. Online purchases may contain substances that are dangerous to your health and the environment.

Products ordered to Finland and their packaging materials remain in our material loops or are processed by our waste management. If there is no accurate information available on the consistency of products and materials there is a risk that harmful substances, such as carcinogenic substances or substances harmful to reproduction, may end up in new products through recycling.

Waste that contains harmful substances must be processed separately from other waste in order to break it down to harmless substances and to make sure that it does not end up harming the environment or the health of waste handlers. Only you know the origin of products you have purchased – not the people processing your waste. If you order a product from outside the EU, you are responsible for assessing its potentially harmful impacts on yourself, other people and the environment.

Tips and advice

Defibrillators

Defibrillators have become more popular in shopping centres and workplaces. However, a low-quality device does not necessarily operate as it should and can cause a danger to both the user and the patient.

Checklist for online shoppers:

  • Make sure that the product has a CE marking.
  • Check the manufacturer’s name and contact details (also check the EU representative of products made by manufacturers outside the EU).
  • Find out what kind of a warranty the product has and whether it can be sent for maintenance.
  • Remember that products only operate properly if they are used and maintained according to instructions.
  • Faulty non-compliant electrical devices may also cause a fire.

There are reliable Finnish online stores available for health care products. Many of them also offer e-support or telephone support for choosing the right product and its use. Returning a faulty or non-functional product usually goes smoothly with domestic and EU operators. When you order from outside the EU the responsibility falls on you.

For more information visit Valvira’s website.

Contraseptives

A condom that does not fulfil its purpose of preventing pregnancy or protecting you from diseases? With an added bonus of an allergic reaction or rash! Non-compliant products may also break easily and contain toxic materials or chemicals. Careful consideration should be given to ordering contraceptives.

Checklist:

  • Make sure that the product has a CE marking and that the packaging is intact.
  • Check the use-by date.
  • Check the manufacturer’s name and contact details (also check the EU representative of products made by a manufacturer outside the EU).
  • If you have doubts about the reliability of the product do not use it.

There are reliable Finnish online stores available for health care products. Many of them also offer e-support or telephone support for choosing the right product and its use. Returning a faulty or non-functional product usually goes smoothly with domestic and EU operators. When you order from outside the EU the responsibility falls on you.

For more information visit Valvira’s website.

Foodstufs

If the promised benefits of a foodstuff sound too good to be true, or if the product is advertised using superlatives that praise the product, the marketing can usually not be trusted. There are no miracle products. You can check the permitted nutrition and health claims from the EU Register of nutrition and health claims made on foods maintained by the European Commission.

Special attention should be paid if the product is marketed for treating or curing illnesses.  Marketing foodstuffs with medicinal claims misleads consumers.

If an online store that sells foodstuffs targets its marketing to the Finnish market, the offered foodstuffs must be compliant with Finnish legislation on foodstuffs. Marketing must only include permitted claims.

Read the list of ingredients, information on allergens, any warnings and user instructions.

Remember:

  • The more the product promises the more sceptical you should be!
  • Foodstuffs should always be purchased from reliable sellers. Buying from an unknown source could pose a risk!
  • If you are not told what the product contains or who is selling the product do not buy it!

More information on Eviras website

Jewellery

A swollen and running sore where an earring should be. Instead of a necklace, your collar bone is adorned by red skin and an allergic reaction.  These are some of the symptoms you might encounter with jewellery that releases nickel. Jewellery sold in the EU is only permitted to release a certain amount of nickel.

Another reason for prohibiting nickel, cadmium and lead in jewellery is that they may cause cancer, damage the genome and/or be toxic for reproduction.

If you buy from outside the EU:

  • Check from the seller that the jewellery or parts thereof do not contain cadmium or lead.
  • Make sure that the jewellery does not release nickel.

Pay special attention when

  • purchasing piercing jewellery: they not only come into contact with the skin surface but also pierce it.
  • purchasing gold, silver or other precious metals. Jewellery might only look like its made of precious metals and not actually contain any.

Information on chemicals used in jewellery

Cosmetics

EU prohibits or restricts the use of substances harmful to health in cosmetics. When you order cosmetics from outside the EU, the requirements set for such products in the EU or the country of origin are not necessarily met. For example, the product may contain substances that are prohibited in the EU or contain more than the safe amount of a substance. In the worst case, cosmetics purchased from outside the EU could be garbage made of waste products and endanger the health of the user. There are also good cosmetics outside the EU. You just need to know what you are buying.

How do I know whether cosmetics I have bought will cause an unwanted reaction or are counterfeit products? Keep an eye on these signs:

  • poor quality of the packaging, such as spelling errors
  • poor quality of the packaging material
  • unusual smell or consistency.

Does the product include a list of ingredients? You can use the CosIng database, maintained by the European Commission, to find information on whether the use of a substance is restricted or completely prohibited in cosmetics sold in the EU by searching the database with the INCI name of the chemical.

The EU has prohibited the use of various substances and ingredients in cosmetics to protect our health. There is a good reason for why certain products intended for uses, such as teeth whitening, skin whitening or hair straightening, are not sold here.

Be especially cautious when ordering these products:

  • Teeth whitening products. Products intended for whitening teeth may contain more than the safe amount of hydrogen peroxide. Too much hydrogen peroxide harms teeth and mucous membranes.
  • Skin whitening products. Authorities have withdrawn from the EU market skin whitening products that have contained substances, such as hydrochinone and mercury, that are harmful to human health and prohibited in the EU.
  • Hair straightening products. Some hair straightening products have been found to contain too much formaldehyde, the use of which is restricted in the EU.
  • Exfoliants Products that contain too much acid and have consequently caused skin damage have been found on the market.

List of links

Information on buying online on Tukes’s website

Information on requirements for cosmetics in the EU

For more information on cosmetics legislation visit the website of the Finnish Cosmetic, Toiletry and Detergent Association

Avoid counterfeit cosmetics

The cosmetics page on the European Commission website

Dermal fillers

Many injectable dermal fillers (such as hyaluronic acid) are considered to be medicinal products – not cosmetics.

Checklist

  • If you order products online make sure that the fillers bear a CE marking for medicinal devices.
  • If you use cosmetic treatment services, ensure that the service provider has purchased the products used for the treatment from a reliable source. This way you can help ensure that the treatment is reliable and safe.

For more information visit Valvira’s website.

Self-testing

Self-testing products (such as pregnancy tests, quick venereal disease tests and cholesterol tests) are intended for self-testing at home and their use and instructions are designed especially for consumers. Test kits sold in Finland must include instructions for consumers in Finnish and Swedish. Products ordered from abroad may have insufficient instructions. A test carried out using instructions that have not been understood correctly does not provide reliable results. Always make sure that the self-testing product bears a CE marking.

Contact a healthcare professional if the test results raise concerns or you doubt their reliability. Do not make decision on treatment or medication without first discussing the matter with a healthcare professional.

Remember that in addition to self-testing, tests, such as HIV tests, can be taken through the public healthcare system or various organisations without revealing your identity. It is often possible to order a self-testing kit for venereal diseases from a health centre or student health care services.

For more information visit Valvira’s website.

Thermometers and blood pressure meters

Would you buy a blood glucose meter that shows incorrect blood sugar levels for a diabetic? Measuring device parts that come off and toxic substances used for manufacturing products may also be harmful to your health. For example, a baby might choke on a part of a dummy thermometer. 

Checklist

  • Before using a product, ensure that the product bears a medicinal device CE marking and includes appropriate instructions.
  • Do not use the product if you doubt its functionality.
  • Do not make decision on treatment or medication without first discussing the matter with a healthcare professional.
  • If you suspect that a measuring result might not be accurate check the result using another device.
  • Faulty non-compliant electrical devices may also cause a fire

There are reliable Finnish online stores available for health care products. Many of them also offer support for choosing the right product and its use. Returning a faulty or non-functional product usually goes smoothly with domestic and EU operators. When you order from outside the EU the responsibility falls on you.

For more information visit Valvira’s website.

Wireless devices

A wireless device ordered from outside the EU does not necessarily function the way you wanted. The device might not function correctly, or it might interfere with other devices due to too high transmit power or wrong frequency. It is unfortunate if a product turns out to be useless.

Radio equipment means wireless devices that use radio frequencies. The Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority (FICORA) supervises radio equipment sold in Finland. Sellers, importers and manufacturers operating within the EU must ensure that their devices meet the appropriate requirements. If you buy a device directly from an online store operating outside the EU, you are responsible for the device and any radio interference it might cause.

Remember:

  • See FICORA’s tips for buying wireless devices (see links).
  • Before buying online, check a few basic things, such as what kind of a website the online store is on.
  • If you are unsure or suspicious about something when making the purchase, ask the seller for more information. If the information is not made available do not buy the product.

Video - consider these issues when buying wireless devices

Purchase and use of wireless devices

Weight-loss products

Some weight-loss products sold online have even been found to contain designer drugs. Products marketed as super effective may also contain (medicinal) substances that are not listed on the seller’s website or the product details.

You should also be sceptical if the promised benefits of a product sound too good to be true. These types of promises are often included in the marketing of weight-loss products that promise great results regarding the speed and amount of weight-loss without having to change your lifestyle. For example: “You will lose at least 3 kg of weight within the first 72 hours” or ”you will lose weight without changing the amount you eat and exercise”.

The greatest contributor to weight change is your lifestyle, including your eating and exercise habits. For this reason, a single product alone does not affect the amount or speed at which you lose weight. Any claims promising so are not true and prohibited by law.

Remember:

  • Always find out what a product contains before purchasing it. If information on the consistency of the product is not available do not buy it!
  • Foodstuffs should always be purchased from reliable sellers. Buying from an unknown source could be a risk!

More information on Evira's website.

Laser equipments

There is dangerous laser equipment in use in Finland. The Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) has tested equipment purchased online and found equipment hundreds of times over the permitted power limits. The light of an efficient effect laser or laser pointer can cause permanent damage if it hits your eye.

Pirated copies of laser equipment are also being sold. They are skilfully disguised to look like genuine equipment and it can be difficult to tell them apart from the original products sold in Finnish stores.

In Finland and the EU, the seller is responsible for the safety of the laser equipment they sell, but with equipment purchased from outside the EU the buyer is responsible for any damage the equipment causes.

Remember:

  • Lasers are not toys
  • Do not buy a laser pointer for a child
  • A powerful laser beam that hits an eye may immediately cause permanent damage
  • Toys can only include a class 1 laser.

Classes of laser products

 

Childcare products

Childcare products are products intended to simplify tasks, such as getting a child to sleep, carrying a child, feeding a child or taking care of a child’s hygiene.  Childcare products must meet the requirements put forward in the Consumer Safety Act: they must not pose a danger to the health or property of consumers. For example, small parts that might cause a choking hazard must not come loose.

Remember:

Carefully consider whether a product, such as a dummy, is a purchase that is worth buying from abroad for a couple of euros less. Your baby could choke on a dummy that breaks easily.

A dummy chain that is too long might also get wrapped around your baby’s neck.

More information on Tukes website.

Toys

A toy is an item or material that is designed for children under 14 years of age to play with. A toy must not pose a danger to children in the age group it is designed for and it must remain safe for its entire life-span.

There are many detailed safety requirements for toys. For example, small parts that might pose a risk of choking with small children must not come loose and a toy must not make sounds that could damage the hearing of a child. The EU has also restricted the use of harmful chemicals in toys.

Consider and check the following before giving a toy to a child:

  • Does the toy intended for children under 3 have small parts that could come loose and pose a choking hazard?
  • Is the toy battery-operated? The battery compartment must not open too easily. Batteries may pose a choking hazard or risk of injury to internal organs if swallowed.
  • Dress-up apparel should not have long drawstrings around the neck that could cause a child to choke.
  • Strongly scented toys may cause sensitivity or an allergic reaction.
  • Loud noises made by a toy may damage a child’s hearing. Test the sound a toy makes before giving it to a child.
  • Slime making sets may contain borax. The chemical is classified as toxic to reproduction and selling it for use by consumers is prohibited in the EU.

List of links:

EU toy requirements on Tukes’s website

Information on online purchases on Tukes’s website

Squishy bulletin by Tukes

 

Medicines

In Finland, medicines can be bought from online stores maintained by pharmacies. Online stores have both non-prescription and prescription medicines available. Prescription medicines can only be purchased from an online service with an electronic prescription. Online pharmacy services do not sell prescription medicines without a prescription.

There are legal online services, such as online pharmacies, operating within the EU and they can be identified by an approved identification symbol.  When ordering from a foreign online pharmacy, restrictions on the import of pharmaceuticals must also be taken into account. There are no differences between countries in the classification of products as medicines.

Purchasing and receiving medicines by post from outside the EEA is prohibited. Ordering veterinary medicinal products from abroad is completely prohibited.

Remember:

  • Make sure that you buy from a licensed online pharmacy
  • The categorisation of pharmaceuticals is different in different countries
  • Do not self-diagnose or self-medicate, ask for help from a physician or a pharmacist

Useful links:

Internet trade in medicines

Travelling and medicines

 

Counterfeit medicines

Even though there are licensed online pharmacies operating in the EU most online sellers of medicines operate illegally. When ordering medicines online there is a considerable risk that you might get a counterfeit product instead of a high-quality pharmaceutical. The importer or the buyer of a medicinal product is responsible for risks related to illegal trade in medicines.

Counterfeit medicines can be almost impossible to recognise. Even experts often need laboratory tests to identify a counterfeit medicinal product.

The best way to avoid counterfeit medicines is to buy medicines from a licensed pharmacy. This ensures that their safety, efficacy and quality has been confirmed through monitoring. Unlicensed online pharmacies are not interested in prescriptions or your safety – only your credit card.

Counterfeit medicines always pose a health risk. In a counterfeit product the active substances and other substances may be wrong, ineffective or even dangerous. In the worst case, a counterfeit medicine can even kill its user. Some food supplements that have been sold with labels such as “natural” have also been found to contain medicinal substances.

Remember:

  • A counterfeit medicine might even kill you and cannot be visually told apart from a genuine medicinal product.
  • Medicines purchased from a service other than a licensed pharmacy are usually counterfeit medicines.
  • Products marketed as natural products may also be counterfeit medicines.

Internet trades in medicines

Counterfeit medicines

Reliability of pharmaceutical information

 

Mobile applications for monitoring health and preventing pregnancy

There is a vast amount of health-related applications available. They can be used to monitor both health and symptoms of illnesses. For example, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of applications available for monitoring the blood glucose levels of a diabetic. There are also contraception applications available for keeping track of so-called safe periods.

Checklist

  • If an application provides instructions for treating an illness, alleviating symptoms or contraception or if it analyses measuring results it must bear a CE marking.
  • Following incorrect instructions can be dangerous. Do not make decision on treatment or medication without first discussing the matter with a healthcare professional.
  • Applications intended for preventing pregnancy are not contraceptives. You could get pregnant even if you are using an application.
  • There are also reliable mobile applications available. Many of them offer e-support or telephone support for choosing the right product and its use.

For more information visit Valvira’s website.

Food supplements

It may be impossible to tell the difference between illegal food supplements sold online and genuine products. Downright scams have been detected involving products intended for weight-loss, sexual performance enhancement and especially body building. In these products the actual effect is often attributable to a medicinal substance, or even a designer drug, which is not mentioned in the list of ingredients of the “very natural and safe” product.

Special attention should be paid if the food supplement is marketed for treating or curing illnesses. Marketing food supplements using medicinal claims misleads consumers.

Products sold as food supplements may be considered medicines according to Finnish legislation. Purchasing and receiving medicines from outside the EEA is prohibited. The importer or the buyer of a medicinal product is solely responsible for risks related to illegal trade in medicines. In other words, consumers order products at their own risk.

Remember:

  • If you are about to buy food supplements from an online store always make sure that the store has clear contact information and instructions for complaints and product returns. However, you should also note that the provided contact information is not necessarily correct.
  • Always ensure that you receive a detailed list of ingredients, user instructions, warnings and other information for food supplement products sold online.

Find out in advance whether the product is considered to be a medicinal product in Finland.

More information visit Evira's website

 

Walkers and other aids

Be careful when ordering healthcare-related aids online. If a non-compliant aid breaks it may cause serious danger. The breaking of a structurally weak walker or crutch may result in a fall that causes serious injury. Even good aids only work properly if they are used and maintained according to instructions.

When buying aids online:

  • Make sure that the product has a CE marking.
  • Find out what kind of a warranty the product has and whether it can be sent for maintenance.

For more information visit Valvira’s website.

Electrical products

Cases where electrical products purchased from outside the EU have ignited when being recharged have come to the attention of authorities. In the worst cases, the heating has caused a significant fire. Based on Tukes’s observations, price is a factor that can help determine the quality of an electrical product. For example, tests conducted by Tukes have found cheap led lights to be dangerous without exception (link)

Tukes supervises electrical products sold in Finland using random checks and has found dangerous products (link). However, in Finland and elsewhere in the EU the seller is responsible for the safety of the product. There is usually a long supply chain behind electrical products, from the manufacturer through the importer to the seller, and all parties have their own role in ensuring the safety of the product. If you purchase a product from outside the EU, the only party responsible for a broken product or damage caused by the product is you.  

Remember:

  • Do not buy cheap electrical products.
  • Always keep an eye on products while they recharge.

More information visit Tukes’s website

 

Involved in the campaign

National Food Safety Authority Evira

European Consumer Centre Finland

Finnish Commerce Federation

Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority

Finnish Transport Safety Agency Trafi

Finnish Medicines Agency (FIMEA)

Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK)

Finnish Cosmetic, Toiletry and Detergent Association

Finnish Customs

Association of Products and Services Trade ETU

Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency (Tukes)

Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE)

National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health Valvira

Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority (FICORA)