When you buy something online, how do you know it’s a trustworthy product? What if it’s a cheap imitation of the real thing? What if it’s going to break in five minutes, or worse, start a house fire?

First, you should know that there is a difference between an official product, a knock-off product, and an off-brand product. A gaming accessory is official if it is made by the same company that made its associated console. For example, a 3DS stylus is official if it was made by Nintendo, because Nintendo created the 3DS. These products will always have their brand name and logo displayed prominently, and they are almost always the highest-quality option for gaming accessories. They are also almost always the most expensive option.

Off-brand gaming accessories are designed to be compatible with official gaming products. They do not pretend to be official, and are usually pretty identifiable. Many off-brand products are officially licensed, and therefore (while they might not be as reliable as an official, branded product), they will probably at the very least have some sort of customer service that you can contact if you’re dissatisfied.

official vs off brand

Left: Off-brand PlayStation 3 controller by dreamGEAR
Right: Official PlayStation 3 controller by Sony

Knock-off products, on the other hand, are not ever officially licensed. They are counterfeit products that pretend to be official, but that are never as good as the real thing. They are usually in violation of copyright or trademark law.

Be careful, though: off-brand products can be just as dangerous as knock-off products. While off-brand accessories may be way cheaper than their official counterparts (the red controller above is about $20 cheaper than its official counterpart), they are almost never as well made as official accessories. Further, off-brand accessories are not always approved by official channels. Be extra careful when buying off-brand batteries or chargers, because both of those items use lots of electricity and therefore have a high risk of overheating or catching on fire.

It’s not the end of the world if you accidentally buy an off-brand or knock-off product. If you can’t afford to go with the full-priced version, going with the cheaper option may be a risk you feel have to take. However, it’s always important to make informed decisions.

Note: You are much more likely to find unlicensed gaming accessories (controllers, chargers, cases, etc.) than you are to find unlicensed consoles or games. Never buy a console that looks like it might be a fake.

Is This Product Trustworthy? 5 Easy Warning Signs

Here is a list of warning signs that I’ve pulled together for shopping online. This advice is mostly geared toward Amazon shoppers, but hopefully these tips will be useful for other online stores, too. Remember, if a website looks poorly designed, or if you haven’t shopped there before, exercise extra caution. There are a lot of shady vendors out there!

1. The customer reviews say that the product is a knock-off.

customer review

This comment was left on a product that looks very official…if you don’t read the reviews.

This step may seem obvious, but it really is the best place to start. Always read the reviews before you purchase an expensive product. If the item has been rated 1.5 out of 5 stars, raise your eyebrows. If the item doesn’t have any reviews at all, that’s fishy, too. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the posting and see what people have written about their experience. If an item is a knock-off, other users will often try to warn you.

2. There’s only one image, and it has a low resolution.

When you buy a product online, looking at the photo is just common sense. If that photo is poor quality, there’s a good chance that the seller stole it from a game company’s official website. It’s not hard to steal high-resolution images; however, it’s even easier to steal low-resolution images, and many underhanded sellers don’t bother to make sure that their pictures are nice. If there’s no product image at all, that’s even more suspicious.

If a product has three or more images, and they’re all high quality, that’s usually a good sign.

What if the images are high-res, but they’re not professional?

Some people like to sell their old products used on Amazon or, more commonly, on Ebay. These products might very well be genuine, but since they’re used, don’t buy them unless they’re cheaper than the official product. You wouldn’t pay full price for a used car, would you? Like any used product, they might come in any kind of condition, and they might be hard to return if you’re dissatisfied.

used controller

This image is high resolution, but it wasn’t taken by a professional. It’s blurry, and you can see the photographer’s reflection in the chrome button.

3. The posting (or the item itself) has prominent spelling or grammatical errors.

This is usually a sign that whoever is selling the product didn’t have the budget to afford a copyeditor. Official brands like Microsoft will almost never have spelling errors.

knock-off wall charger

“If feel’AC ADAPTOR’ too hot,please stop use it.”

4. The seller isn’t a recognizable name.

generic

If it’s by “Generic,” it’s almost certainly risky.

If you want to buy an official Nintendo product, the seller should be Nintendo. Unfortunately, even that isn’t a 100% guarantee that the seller really is Nintendo. When you’re on Twitter, you can tell that you’re reading a celebrity’s real Twitter account because there will be a handy blue checkmark next to his or her name. Twitter offers this service to prevent ordinary people from pretending to be celebrities. Amazon has no such authenticity feature, so just about anyone can go create an account and then name it “Nintendo.”

5. The product’s price is absurdly low.

too cheap

This seller is making their profit off of high shipping prices. Genuine sellers don’t do that.

If you want to buy electronic hardware and it only costs $0.17, how much do you think they spent to make it? That product is probably of absurdly low quality.

If you aren’t sure what the real price should be for for the product you’re seeking, try checking the game company’s official website.

Look out for “Box Only” items.

Some video game collectors like to purchase console boxes. That’s right, empty cardboard boxes. Usually, sellers are very upfront about the fact that the console is not included, but if you’re not expecting to see a cardboard box for sale, it can be a little confusing.

box only

These aren’t consoles!

So how do I find products that are safe? 4 Quick Tips

Did that list intimidate you? Don’t worry, you can still shop online safely! Here are some tips for the cautious shopper.

1. Visit the game company’s official website.

PlayStation really doesn’t want you giving money away to someone who is stealing its brand name, so any “Buy Now” links that you find on their official website are almost certain to be trustworthy.

To be even extra certain, try to track down the sellers’ official Amazon stores. These can be frustrating to find, so I collected them for you right here!

2. Do your shopping in person.

I know, shopping online is so much easier. But if you want a guarantee, buy your stuff from an electronics store like Best Buy or a gaming store like GameStop. These stores are also likely to stock off-brand products, but they should be clearly labeled, and you can always ask a clerk for help.

3. Shop from the official websites of physical stores like Best Buy or Target.

These websites usually only list the same products that they would sell to you in person, so it’s a very safe way to find official gaming accessories. You won’t be able to use your Amazon Prime account here, but it’s much less likely that you will be scammed.

4. Use product guides from Amazon or other recognizable sellers.

Sometimes sellers like Amazon will post holiday shopping guides to help you find the products you’re looking for quickly and easily. The employees who put these guides together are likely to make sure that they only list real, official products. Otherwise, official sellers like Nintendo or Microsoft would probably get pretty angry.

These logos are usually a good sign. However, it's pretty easy to fake an image like this, so don't rely on it 100%.

These logos are usually a good sign. However, it’s pretty easy to fake an image like this, so don’t rely on it 100%.

Remember! It is not the end of the world if you buy a low-quality gaming accessory. But now you have been armed with knowledge. Go forth and shop!

Did I miss something in my article? Have you been burned by a fake product in the past? Tell us about it in the comments!

Courtney Holmes

Courtney Holmes

Courtney is Pixelkin's Associate Managing Editor. While working with the Girl Scouts of Northern California, she mentored young girls in teamwork, leadership, personal responsibility, and safety. Today, she spends her time studying adolescent development and using literary analysis techniques to examine video games.