Two top-selling dietary supplement companies continue to search for the sources of counterfeit products that were illegally sold on Amazon under their trusted brand names.
In April, both NOW Foods and Fungi Perfecti announced that they had found numerous fakes, all hawked by unauthorized third-party vendors, 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 being ripped off.
NOW identifies 11 imitations
Multiple consumers first alerted the company that NOW-branded supplements purchased via Amazon looked suspiciously incorrect. There turned out to be 11 different products masquerading as NOW’s, all sold by a company called A2X1.
“One 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—that was four wrong things with one 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 U.S.”
The company took immediate action. “NOW contacted Amazon in multiple ways because this was an emergency for our brand and a serious health concern for consumers,” Richard says. “We didn’t know what was in the capsules—we only knew it was not the intended product. People had already consumed these, and we didn’t have any hospital cases reported to NOW.”
When NOW tested the odorless white powder found in all 11 counterfeits, it proved to be rice flour. Some products even contained trace levels of the drug sildenafil—otherwise known as Viagra.
There was also a litany of packaging and labeling gaffes. The bottles were a different type than NOW uses and did not include a lot number or the brand’s signature purple lids. The labels were incorrect as well: too shiny, too elongated, too squared at the edges, too easy to peel off.
“A2X1 was also selling another brand, so we bought a couple bottles of this other major brand on Amazon and found the same small, white capsules for products that didn’t match the label,” Richard says. “We communicated directly to try to help each other.”
NOW asked Amazon to disable the fraudulent site and recall all bad products. “It took us two business days, but Amazon did take down the seller A2X1 and quarantined all fake inventory,” Richard says. “We were told that our fake products originated from Kenya and that over 1,000 bottles were sold. Amazon issued a ‘destruct’ notice email to all buyers of these products, saying it had information that the product was counterfeit. They also issued refunds.”
NOW also notified the Natural Products Association, which alerted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “At the same time, Amazon’s legal fraud unit notified the Department of Homeland Security, and we had a meeting with both parties that same week,” Richard adds.
Overall, Richard is satisfied with Amazon’s response to the matter. “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 this offender criminally.”
Fungi Perfecti finds 23 fraudulent storefronts
Just 11 days after NOW reported its findings, Fungi Perfectly issued a press release detailing its own case of unrelated but equally serious fraud. The company discovered multiple unauthorized accounts on Amazon peddling products branded as Host Defense Mushrooms.
Fungi Perfecti learned of the 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 experienced outside counsel to support e-commerce brand protection. Ongoing monitoring of all sales channels is an integral part of our practice to identify potential unauthorized and counterfeit sellers.”
During a recent sweep, the company noted numerous packaging irregularities and suspicious capsule contents with its MyCommunity 120-count, Stamets 7 120-count, Lion’s Mane 120-count and Turkey Tail 120-count SKUs.
All four fake products tested positive for the known allergens gluten and soy, whereas legitimate Host Defense Mushroom supplements are gluten free and are not formulated with soy. Beyond that, most of the imitations were packaged in black plastic bags, which Fungi Perfecti doesn’t use. The word “multi” was even misspelled on the faux MyCommunity labels.
Whereas the NOW imitations 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 counterfeit product, we immediately reported these findings to FDA and Amazon,” Bullman says. “Amazon has since removed the counterfeit products from their store and notified affected customers.”
Tip of the iceberg
NOW and Fungi Perfecti are definitely not the only supplement brands being knocked off on Amazon—and the issue spans well beyond this category. According to Amazon’s third-annual Brand Protection Report, published in April, the platform ousted 6 million counterfeit items in 2022 alone.
But as it relates to supplements, Richard calls the problem “very widespread.” Though he says this is the first time NOW has found a problem in the U.S., the company has weathered “significant counterfeit problems” globally for years.
“Certain countries are especially troublesome, although we have not seen problems in areas that we would suspect,” Richard explains. “Saudi Arabia and Brazil have been our biggest problem countries, and the problems are getting worse. The cheaters are getting very sophisticated with exact brand labeling, and sometimes we have difficulty telling counterfeits ourselves."
As for what brands can do to mitigate the risks, investing in strong brand-control efforts like Fungi Perfecti’s is certainly advisable. But even that may not eradicate the problem entirely.
“This is very difficult, and we don’t have the answers yet,” Richard says. “NOW is looking into antifraud measures, and there are quite 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 will be easy or inexpensive.”
Anyone with information about these fraud schemes is asked to call NOW at 800-999-8069 x 2 or Fungi Perfect at 877-504-6926.