CLEVELAND — An online scam putting families in Northeast Ohio at risk.
Already in the U.S., car crashes are the leading cause of death among children and while car seats are designed to save lives, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says nearly half are misused.
But now increasing the danger are counterfeit car seats posing as authentic and safe options online.
“With COVID happening a lot of families were purchasing car seats online because they weren’t going to the stores as often and what they are seeing are these really great deals for car seats that look great online, especially our first-time families,” said Chrystal Gullett, Rainbow Child Passenger Safety Coordinator. “It’s not until the car seat gets home or sometimes even to the hospital that the car seat is identified as not actually being a real car seat.”
So far this year, Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital has found and reported four counterfeit car seats. Gullet says as result families have been scammed out of hundreds of dollars.
“Most of the time is what it looked great on the website, it met their needs for their family,” she said. “We know these families are doing their best to protect their children so we’re educating and supporting them.”
What do parents think?
For Hershel Smilovich, protecting his two kids and keeping them safe is a full-time job and is naturally a top priority.
“Having a child, you want to keep them in bubble wrap until they’re you know 40,” he said.
As a dad of a 12-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter, Smilovich says his biggest daily concern is on the road.
“There’s some crazy drivers out there,” he said. “I remember like yesterday driving home from the hospital going one and a half miles per hour, not changing lanes unless I had to.”
When News 5 asked Smilovich if he knew cyber-criminals were selling counterfeit car seats online to families, he was shocked and disappointed.
“It’s disgusting. I can’t believe that somebody would do that whether to make a buck or to endanger a child,” he said. “There’s bad drivers out there and there’s just bad people out there.”
How to spot a counterfeit car seat
According to Gullet the first thing you can do is check the straps on a car seat. If the straps are narrow like you’d see in a high chair stroller that could be a red flag.
“A real car seat has much wider harnesses. They’re mandated by law to be a certain width so that they protect children and spread crash forces over a wider area of the body and they have to be a certain strength as well,” Gullet said.
Gullet says a real and safe car seat should have a five-point harness, including two straps across the hips.
You can also check the labels. If it’s missing the manufacture and warning stickers, chances are it never got federal motor safety approval, which means it’s most likely fake.
More info to determine if the restraint is legal in the United States. Click here.
I have a counterfeit car seat. What's next?
If you have a counterfeit car seat report it. You can report to Rainbow Babies Injury and Prevention Center hotline and get free consultation and car seat fittings. The number is 216-844-2277. If you call after hours, leave a message and the team will get back to you the next business day.
You can also buy safe care seats from Rainbow Babies Injury and Prevention Center at discounted prices. It works with the Ohio Buckles Buckeyes program to distribute car seats on a first-come first served basis. To learn more, click here.