When buying any safety-related products online, make sure you buy from reputable vendors and do your research to verify the authenticity of the product. Failing to check whether a product is counterfeit or relying on knockoff versions for personal safety can have disastrous consequences.

Most counterfeit products these days are sold online through website vendors such as e-Bay and Amazon. While counterfeit watches, clothing, and perfume are disappointing, counterfeit safety products such as bike helmets are downright dangerous.

NPR recently reviewed bike helmets made in China that look identical to authentic U.S.-made helmets but offer none of the life-saving protection.

In California, where Specialized Bicycles makes its Specialized Evade II bike helmets, the counterfeit helmets from China were put through a series of performance tests, including processes designed to mimic real-life collisions. What those tests revealed was disturbing.

Although one might not be able to discern between the real and counterfeit helmets by outward appearances, a look inside the knock-off product showed it offers none of the life-saving protection.

In one test, the helmet is strapped to a dummy’s head to see if its straps allow it to be pulled off.  Another test is strapped onto a machine that lifts it five feet and then slams it against a curved anvil.

The counterfeit helmet failed all of the safety tests, and badly. The test designed to mimic a bicyclist’s head colliding with a street curb caused the counterfeit helmet to be split in half.

Clint Mattacola of Specialized Bicycles told NPR that had that occurred in real-life, the bicyclist’s “skull would have hit the surface. Most likely would have suffered from skull fracture, brain damage or death.”

According to the NPR report, you can identify a counterfeit helmet by looking at the inside. “The plastic fit retention device on the fake helmet is often made of cheap, stiff plastic with a bulky ratchet dial, compared with the real helmet,” NPR reported, citing Specialized Bicycles. The counterfeit helmet would also weigh about 45 grams lighter than the genuine helmet. Additionally, the foam liner is much thinner inside the fake and there is no internal fiber skeleton to hold the helmet snug on the head in a collision.

Price may also be a sign of a counterfeit. The fake Specialized Bicycles helmet featured in NPR’s report cost about $50, whereas authentic ones cost four to five times as much. However, sometimes vendors discount their products just a little so consumers won’t think the prices are too good to be true.

According to NPR, U.S. Customs confiscates about twice as many counterfeit products as it did just 10 years ago, due to e-commerce and the ability of consumers to buy products directly from overseas vendors. So instead of arriving in giant cargo loads, the counterfeits enter the U.S. in individual packages sent through the mail directly to the consumer. Last year, 90 percent of the counterfeits seized by U.S. customs entered the country this way — an all-time high.

In addition to sporting goods, counterfeits sold online include cosmetics, electronics and electrical products, and prescription drugs — even cancer medications.

“I would say to the consumer, beware of what you are buying and where you are buying it from,” William Ross, deputy assistant director for the Homeland Security Investigations-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, told NPR. “Buy from legitimate outlets, whether it’s in-person or online. What you’re buying online could be counterfeit and could potentially hurt or kill you.”

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