Ghoulish counterfeit cosmetics and poor-quality costumes threaten to dampen Halloween

  • Brand Protection
Ghoulish counterfeit cosmetics and poor-quality costumes threaten to dampen Halloween

Counterfeit costumes prone to catching fire and fake contact lenses that can damage eyes are widely available online in the run-up to Halloween.

Halloween spending is projected to be worth upwards of USD8.8 billion this year[1] and is a prime target for counterfeiting operations online.

With marketplaces, eCommerce sites and social media awash with fake licensed goods and cosmetics in the run up to the festivities, consumers are being put at risk.

Counterfeiters prey on seasonal sales and holidays

Bad actors use targeted advertising on social media and promoted listings on marketplaces to offer their counterfeits to unsuspecting consumers. Ads offer counterfeit products a level of credibility, fooling many consumers into thinking they are purchasing goods sourced from official channels.

These scam sites often disappear without a trace after the seasonal demand drops-off, leaving consumers out of pocket and unable to replace their low-quality product in time for the festivities.

Fake licensed goods haunting marketplaces

Costumes and fancy dress are singled out by counterfeiters due to their increased demand, particularly during high profile seasonal events such as Halloween. Many of the products purchased this Halloween will be costumes, with a large percentage of these based on popular films, TV shows, video games, and comics.

Counterfeit costumes are made from low-quality materials and may easily tear. PIPCU warns that fake children’s costumes may even contain flammable materials, putting them at grave risk[3].

Brands must act; consumers spurned by counterfeits will direct the majority of their criticism at the brand rather than the platform. Corsearch research finds that 66% of consumers who have been ripped off by fakes have lost trust in a brand after unintentionally purchasing counterfeit goods.

Identifying counterfeit or unlicensed costumes can be a difficult task for consumers. The following red flags should be widely communicated by brands to consumers:

  • Price – fake costumes are listed for prices as low as £3.99
  • Typos or grammatical mistakes within the listing – spelling mistakes of the product or brand name are intentional to deceive consumers
  • Seller address and item location – the listing may claim to be domestic stock but is actually shipped from overseas (or if the seller’s business address is registered overseas)

Examples of commonly counterfeited outfits this year

Our analysts have identified a number of counterfeit and unlicensed costumes heading into Halloween. ‘Joker’ was released earlier this month and a quick scan of eBay revealed countless unlicensed costumes, with DC and Warner Bros. yet to release official merchandise for the record-breaking movie. IT Chapter 2 was released in September and faces a similar issue. The infringing listings are likely enforceable, with sellers using stills from the films (these images are protected by copyright) and registered trademarks without permission.

An example of a suspicious listing on eBay UK
The seller is registered in China despite offering ‘UK stock’

Counterfeit cosmetics tricking consumers

Cosmetics are also a popular target for bad actors. $69 million worth of fake cosmetic and pharmaceutical products were seized in the US in 2017, making up 6.5% of all counterfeit seizures.

Multi-colored lenses are often used as a finishing touch to Halloween costumes. Fake contact lenses are widely available, with PIPCU and the US government warning against their purchase.

Harmful contact lenses available at Halloween

Counterfeit contact lenses are particularly dangerous as they can permanently damage a user’s eyes, either through incorrect usage (contact lenses are usually prescription only) or due to the materials used. Counterfeit contact lenses seized in the US earlier this year were found to contain lead[4].

Other fakes have been found to contain toxic materials such as cyanide, arsenic, lead, mercury and, in some cases, even rat excrement[5]. These harmful ingredients will cause skin irritation, rash or infection, and many are linked to a higher risk of cancer.

The warning signs of counterfeit products below should be well-communicated by brands to consumers:

  • Packaging – there are no pictures of the packaging or the listing states ‘without original packaging’,
  • Use of stock photos with no photos of the product taken by the seller

So, how can brands tackle seasonal threats?

When brands rely solely on platform-tools to remove counterfeits, they risk falling into the trap of the ‘whack-a-mole’ approach.

Platforms can also be slow to respond to takedown requests. With time of the essence, this can be frustrating for brand owners who need listings removed before a seasonal event such as Halloween.

In order to effectively fight sophisticated counterfeiters, action needs to be at a network-scale and focused on taking down entire operations rather than individual listings.

Online Brand Protection key to reducing infringement

Brands must be prepared to face seasonal threats from online infringers; it is critical to factor in holidays, sales and other events throughout the year into your brand protection strategy. A brand should be proactive and flexible, monitoring problematic marketplaces and popular product lines.

At Corsearch, we work with our clients to ensure they protect their consumers and brand reputation online. We allow our customers to meaningfully reduce online infringement and increase their online sales by targeting the largest infringers. If you believe your brand is under threat and are interested to see how our technology can offer a long-term solution to online infringement, request to talk to one of our experts below.


[1] Why the Halloween Industry Is Worth Nearly $9 Billion (Investopedia, 2019):

[2] Clothing, jewelry, prescription drugs among America’s most counterfeited items (USA Today, 2019):

[3] Trick or treat: PIPCU warns of fake fancy dress dangers ahead of Halloween (City of London Police, 2019):

[4] Homeland Security launching crackdown on counterfeit contacts, makeup in time for Halloween (WLBT, 2019):

[5] Rat droppings and arsenic: The stuff you put on your face by using counterfeit makeup (The Washington Post, 2019):