It's easy buying pills or medications off Amazon, but a woman living in Annapolis, Maryland is wishing she hadn't. Months after taking a daily supplement, she learned the product may be counterfeit.
"At Amazon, customer trust is our top priority, and we go to great lengths to provide you with vast and authentic selection, fast delivery, and low prices. As part of our ongoing efforts to ensure that you can shop with confidence in Amazon's stores, we recently learned the product you received from a third-party seller is likely not a genuine Align product. We're sorry for any disappointment or inconvenience this might have caused," Amazon wrote in an email to Michele Marshall.
"I got the medication at the end of April, and they're sending me this July 3. It had 64 pills. Do the math, I've taken a lot of pills by that point," Marshall said.
The product was Align, a probiotic supplement. Marshall typically bought it at the grocery store, but was running low and in a hurry, so she found it on Amazon and said she picked one of the first two options with Prime shipping.
"It wasn't any cheaper, so it's not like I went digging at the bottom to see who could sell me something. It was just normal ease of having it delivered to my house," Marshall said.
After receiving the email she immediately called the company and was directed to a customer representative.
"And he's like 'Oh, I understand your concern and we returned your money,' but I was like $37.99 does not make me whole at this point. I need to figure out what's in my body and 'Oh I understand, you should go see your doctor,'" said Marshall.
Her doctor gave her a blood test, and the results came back normal. Even so, Marshall wanted to know what she put in her body.
"[Amazon] has offered no assistance whatsoever in whatever research they're doing. How did they find out that it wasn't a real product? They should've let people know that," said Marshall. "They didn't tell us how they found out, they didn't offer to do any examinations of the pill themselves."
Amazon wouldn't share that information with WMAR-2 News Reporter Mallory Sofastaii either.
She sent Amazon a list of questions including how many people were notified and what else the seller, Kevin D Rodriguez, offered.
A spokesperson sent back two statements -- one on their efforts to combat counterfeit products and the other on customer safety being a top priority. The spokesperson added that the seller had been banned and the products in question had been removed, but when pressed to answer specific questions about the product Marshall had ingested, the spokesperson said they had "nothing else to share at this time."
Parent company of Align, P&G, were a little more forthcoming. In an email, a spokesperson wrote:
P&G and the Align brand are fully committed to protecting consumers from counterfeit product, and we are conducting an analysis of the counterfeit Align. Unfortunately, not all counterfeit product will appear tampered with nor will the packaging necessarily look noticeably different.
Sofastaii asked for the test results and was told they expect to have more information from the analysis in the coming weeks.
"I trusted really naively that Amazon that whatever products they would sell me, that there is some sort of quality assurance that was put behind it and that you wouldn't distribute medications that people were going to ingest and not know where they came from or what was in them," Marshall said.
Marshall had a doctor's appointment even before the email because of certain symptoms. Looking back, she said those symptoms began two weeks after taking the pills, and went away after she stopped using them.
"I'm a mom, I'm a wife, and I care about my health and I don't want to be the only one that cares about my health. I think Amazon should too," said Marshall.
Sofastaii also reached out to the FDA to see if they'd be willing to test the product. The FDA wrote back: "We encourage the public to report to the FDA any complaints about products, including allegations of regulatory violations, with as much specific information as they can provide."
Below is Amazon's full statement and details on how they work to verify a product's authenticity:
“Customer safety is a top priority. Our customers expect that when they make a purchase through Amazon’s store—either directly from Amazon or from one of its millions of third-party sellers—they will receive authentic products. Amazon strictly prohibits the sale of counterfeit products and we invest heavily in both funds and company energy to ensure our policy is followed. We work with and empower brands through programs like Brand Registry, Transparency, and Project Zero to ensure only authentic products are sold in our stores. We investigate any claim of counterfeit thoroughly, including removing the item, permanently removing the bad actor, pursuing legal action or working with law enforcement as appropriate. The products in question have been removed.
In order to detect bad actors and potentially counterfeit products, we make significant investments in machine learning and automated systems. We employ dedicated teams of software engineers, applied scientists, program managers, and investigators to operate and continually refine our anti-counterfeiting programs. Amazon’s systems automatically and continuously scan numerous data points related to selling partners, products, brands, and offers to detect activity that may indicate a potentially counterfeit product and immediately block or remove it from our store. Over 99% of all Amazon page views by our customers landed on pages that did not receive a notice of potential counterfeit infringement.
Any rights owner can enroll in Amazon Brand Registry to get access to a set of powerful tools that help them manage and protect their brand and intellectual property rights in our store. Brand Registry is a free service and more than 130,000 brands are already enrolled. These brands are able to report suspected infringement and ensure product information displayed on detail pages are accurate so customers can make confident, informed purchasing decisions on Amazon. Brands in Brand Registry on average are finding and reporting 99% fewer suspected infringements than before the launch of Brand Registry.
Transparency is an item-level tracing service where brands serialize each unit they manufacture with a unique code. Amazon then scans these codes and verifies the authenticity of the product before it reaches a customer. Customers can also scan the Transparency code via a mobile app to confirm authenticity and learn more about the product, such as usage instructions, ingredients, and expiration date. Over 2000 brands, from Fortune 500 companies to startups, have enrolled their products in Transparency.
Project Zero is a new program that empowers brands to help us drive counterfeit to zero by combining Amazon’s machine learning technology with the unique knowledge brands have of their own intellectual property. Using the self-service counterfeit removal tool in Project Zero, brands can instantly remove counterfeit from our store and this information is fed into our automated protections so we can more effectively prevent counterfeit listings in the future.
Customers are always protected by our A-to-z Guarantee, whether they make a purchase from Amazon or a selling partner. If the product doesn’t arrive or isn’t as advertised, customers can contact our customer support for a full refund of their order. Counterfeit is an age-old problem, but one that we will continue to fight and innovate on to protect customers, brands, and sellers.”
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