Trusted for 23+ Years
Sex Toy Scams
Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert
When it comes to sexual products such as sex toys, personal lubricants, massage oils, and beyond, most people are unaware of the consumer safety issues as well as the scams that go on concerning the sale of them. This article will help you to better understand the key issues that you should be aware of when purchasing a sex toy such as:
- How to avoid buying a used sex toy.
- How to avoid buying a counterfeit sex toy.
- How to avoid buying a toxic sex toy.
How Sex Toy Scams Work
After purchasing from shady resellers of sex toys, many consumers find out that they have bought counterfeit products or have purchased used products returned from a previous purchase.
In 2014, the National Association for the Advancement of Science & Art in Sexuality (NAASAS.org) did an undercover investigation and found that over 10% of the retail sex toys they purchased for the study through major online retailers showed signs that they had been previously opened.
The criteria used to indicate if a product had been previously purchased was physical evidence found on the sex toys. This included human body hair (including pubic hair), vaginal and anal secretions (including fecal matter), saliva, fingerprints, lubricant residue, animal fur, lint from clothing, and more. These unethical practices are outright disturbing, and it's a growing trend.
Below we review how some of these unscrupulous sex toy sales are occurring as well as how we make buying our brand new sexual products safe, easy, and discreet.
The first thing to look at will be the type of reseller a person or company is. There are generally two types of sex toy resellers. There are companies whose entire focus is on sexual products, and they have their own dedicated website. Other people become independent third-party resellers and sell products on major retailer websites such as Amazon, Walmart, eBay, and Alibaba. Some are both. Each of these has potential dangers you need to understand.
Used & Returned Sex Toys
There is a growing trend of sexual products being sold that are stolen or have been refurbished (used sex toys). In these situations, the adage of 'too good to be true' may apply. These unethical third-party sellers will put them on sale at a price that is equal or even below their normal cost. Their goal is to get rid of them by enticing customers with an unusually low price.
In the instance of third-party resellers, the scammer obtains a resellers account through one of the major retailers (i.e., Amazon, Walmart, eBay, Alibaba). They can choose to ship you the products themselves, or they can send their inventory to a warehouse where it is stored. Once a consumer purchases it, the major retailer then ships it out for them. The major retailer makes its money by taking a small portion of the profits from the reseller.
However, for the consumer who is often in the dark, it looks like they are purchasing the product directly from a reputable big-name company. In reality, the major retailer is not buying the products at all. In most cases, they are only storing them for the independent third-party reseller. Meanwhile, the consumer has no idea who really sold them the toy or where it came from, let alone its authenticity, or if it is really new.
Sex Toy Warning Signs
One of the first red flags as a consumer are companies that accept returns on a used sex toy that's not defective. A good sex toy retailer will not allow for products to be returned if they can't verify it's unused.
Be sure to look at their return policy to see if they allow customers to send back a toy they used and didn't like. Some companies will then place that product back into inventory, waiting for the next customer to buy and use it. Some of them will say they only accept returns if they are 'unused and unopened.'
The problem is that most sex toy manufacturers do not shrink wrap or safety seal their products. It would be easy for someone to carefully close up a sex toy box and make it look like it was never opened.
That is why, as an ethical company, we cannot take properly working sex toys back. On the rare occasion that a customer reports one as defective, once it's been returned to us, we dispose of the defective product immediately and provide a new replacement. In some situations, we have the customer send it directly to the manufacturer with a prepaid shipping label. The manufacturers will sometimes like to examine defective products to see how they can further improve on quality and reliability.
A reputable sex toy company will treat customers with respect and only sell new products that can be verified as new. Due to the risks of infections and STDs, it would be a huge liability to be sending a sex toy that may have been used. No business should ever risk a customer's health by guessing if something was used or not.
Counterfeit Sex Toys
One of the biggest concerns beyond toxins in sex toys and used sex toys are online counterfeit scams. This is more prevalent with third-party resellers using the major retailers (Amazon, eBay, etc.) to sell their fake products and ship them to unsuspecting consumers.
Consumers can make the mistake of feeling secure buying from a major retailer, but the major retailer is not actually purchasing the products. Instead, they are being supplied by the third-party reseller. There is little control or oversight of these third-party resellers, and they can take advantage of you and violate your trust.
Just like in the fashion industry, where there are knockoff designer products for famous brands such as Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, and others, there are also knockoff sex toys posing for brands such as Lelo, Njoy, Fun Factory, We-Vibe, Fleshlight, Tenga, and even the Hitachi Wand.
Because these brands are so popular many manufacturers outside of the U.S. decide to get in on the action by introducing products that look very similar to the real brand with identical packaging, colors, and even using the brand's logo. We know about them because we are contacted regularly by shady companies wanting us to resell their counterfeit items for them.
What is truly concerning is that some of these counterfeit sex toys are not only not made with the materials that they claim to be made out of, such as silicone, but some have toxins in them that can leach out into one's body and be easily absorbed into the bloodstream through the mucous membrane of the vagina or rectum.
Some knockoff brands don't even try to pretend they are the original brand name. They are just sold as unbranded cheap sex toys. The problem is many of these are being sold directly from China and other countries that use toxic materials to make their toys. See our guide on Body Safe Sex Toys to become better educated about this.
Some counterfeit sex toys are so real-looking that even sex toy experts cannot tell the difference. In one case, a sex toy expert had gotten a high-end brand sex toy and noticed the material did not seem like silicone. They were suspicious that the manufacturer was trying to scam the public, so they had a third-party lab test it. When they discovered it was not silicone and contained toxins, they confronted the manufacturer, but it turned out that it was a knock-off sex toy. The manufacturer was able to tell them, based on the UPC, SKU codes, and a few packaging errors, that it was a counterfeit sex toy.
If knock-off sex toys can fool sex toy experts, they can undoubtedly fool everyday consumers. That is why purchasing through a reputable sex toy retailer is so essential. By going through reputable channels, you ensure that what you are getting is authentic. Keep in mind most sex toy manufacturers do not allow third-party resellers to sell their products through major retailers. They must be sold through their network of authorized dealers. If you purchase a product from a non-authorized seller many times, the warranty for your sex toy will not be valid.
Finding a retailer that works with manufacturers ethically, sells authentic products, and specializes in health and sex toy safety is not as common as many consumers think. The good news is you have found one in us.
How To Spot A Fake Sex Toy
There are sometimes subtle differences that you can spot if you know what to look for with a counterfeit sex toy, such as is the case with a Hitachi Magic Wands. For example, a real Hitachi Magic Wand has a rectangular blue plate that surrounds the on and off switch, whereas those knockoff versions typically will have one that is oval.
The genuine Hitachi Magic Wand is UL rated, and you will see a black UL in a circle to let you know it is. UL stands for (Underwriters Laboratories). They provide safety-related certification to let you know if an electrical product you are buying has passed nationally recognized safety standards. A counterfeit Hitachi Magic Wand will not have a UL rating. An authentic Hitachi Magic Wand comes with a one-year warranty in the box, and a knock off Hitachi Magic Wand will not have this.
Make sure you only purchase sex toys from authorized resellers. You may be charged a few dollars more, but you will know it is authentic, has a real warranty, and the sex toy retailer is ethical.
Authorized resellers will be able to answer a few basic questions for you, such as knowing whether a brand has a Minimum Advertised Pricing (MAP) agreement and, in some cases, can verify that they have had to sign legal paperwork showing they will abide by such agreements.
It's essential to ask resellers about these issues to show if they are in good standing with the actual manufacturer. You can also contact the manufacturer directly to ask if a reseller is authorized or certified for their products.
It would be best to research third-party resellers that sell through companies like Amazon and eBay, etc. If you cannot find out who you are buying from because a major retailer is doing fulfillment for them, you may want to avoid such a purchase altogether.
Safe Sex Toy Testing
Reputable manufacturers go through proper channels to certify their sex toys as safe through testing, such as:
- Electrical Safety Test Reports
- Chemicals & Heavy Metals Test Reports
- Flammability Test Reports
They use organizations such as REACH, the European Community Regulation on chemicals and their safe use, and RoHS and electronics standards to reduce hazardous materials found in electric components. Sex toys that pass these regulations affix the CE mark on their products. UL Certified labels (Enhanced Mark Labels) allow consumers to scan the label to look up the various safety standards for testing and certification of the product.
ISO certification is another way to certify sex toy safety which provides a third-party seal of approval by meeting the international standards developed and published by the International Organization for Standardization. Furthermore, some sex toys have medical device certification by the FDA. This is typically quite costly and can take years to get for each product.
In addition, some sex toy manufacturers use independent labs to test their sex toys. Some go as far as having the sex toy prototype tested before manufacturing and again after the product has been produced in double-tiered testing. Some will continue with random testing to ensure their manufacturing plant complies with their safety criteria.
What About The Small Sex Toy Business Owner?
Most of this information applies to larger sex toy companies, but what about the small business owner or artesian that is hand pouring silicone to make custom dildos? These individuals should only be in business if they take consumers' safety very seriously. For example, if they are hand pouring silicone, then they need only to use platinum curing (or peroxide curing with a post-bake), and only use additives and pigments that are deemed nontoxic and body safe. Furthermore, they will need to understand enough chemistry to determine how materials will interact and if they will remain nontoxic and body-safe once combined.
Fake Certification & Safety Labels
Unfortunately, some deceptive manufacturers put certification and safety labels on products that have not been passed or, in some cases, have never been tested. These companies use counterfeit labels to make you think they are passing safety regulations when they are not. Some red flags of improper logos and sequencing of numbers can help you identify fake certification labels. You can look up the type of label you wish to verify by going through checklists and directories held by the certification organization to help you identify if it is real. For example, a UL label can be verified through the online Product iQ database to verify all UL Guide Documentation.
Why Companies Fake Safety Reports?
Companies that are small, new, or just trying to make affordable sex toys often find that the testing and certification process is costly. Sometimes they unknowingly decide to proceed with a less than reputable testing organization to get a certification label that may be fake because it is cheaper. In other cases, they may knowingly be participating in counterfeit testing labels. Certification labels like RoHS are easier to fake, which can be purchased as stickers from companies like Uline with no testing whatsoever.
What happens to manufacturers that have counterfeit safety and certification labels? The customs authorities seize their products, and they face fines or are forced to recall products that are ordered by national market surveillance authorities. They may also face legal action from consumers. In short, it could destroy their company which is why reputable companies will not risk it.
However, when you have manufacturers outside of the USA selling cheap sex toys on Amazon and other retailers, it is more challenging to hold them accountable, and why you will find a higher incidence of fake certifications and safety testing with those products.
Sex Toys That Are Too Good To Be True
If you find a sex toy and the price is too good to be true, it most likely is, and you will be paying for it in other ways, such as having a sex toy that does not work for long or at all. Or worse, having a sex toy that is toxic or unsafe that risks your health and safety. Below are a few more of the shady practices in the sex toy industry.
Sex Toys That Should Not Be Used Together
Over the years, we have seen various sex toy retailers that decided to get into this business just to make money with little knowledge about the safety of how different sexual products can adversely react with each other.
We've seen websites selling a sex toy along with a lubricant that will melt the sex toy material, which in turn can pose harmful health risks to the user by releasing toxins. This is particularly common with some of the major retailers that allow for third-party sales. They will offer a free lubricant to entice you to buy the sex toy but are pairing it with an incompatible lubricant.
We brought this to the attention of the largest online retailer in the United States as we educate professionals through our sister organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Science & Art in Sexuality - NAASAS.org. Still, nothing was done to change this, so consumers continue to be misled by thinking that what they are buying is always safe and compatible.
This problem continues to not only persist but to expand. It is our hope by educating you about these concerns that we can positively affect change for consumer safety and satisfaction.
Risks You Take
Even with large, mainstream companies, your personal information may be shared or you may be shipped used, fake or stolen merchandise:
They will bombard you with all kinds of sales pitches by email, phone, and mail and some may be embarrassingly pornographic.
Unhealthy & Toxic Sex Toys
Sadly, many large sex toy retailers sell a vast collection of sex toys made from materials they do not fully understand when it comes to how they interact with other sex toys, lubricants, or even health conditions some consumers may have. This means a few potential problems, such as selling you lubricants that are not compatible with the sex toys you are buying.
They could also be telling you incorrect information about the sex toy materials. For example, one of the largest sex toy companies sells TPR and TPE materials and tells consumers they are soft plastic sex toys, which may mislead consumers into thinking they are nonporous when they are not. This drastically affects how the sex toy should be used, cleaned, and stored, or else it can chemically melt and harbor a large amount of bacteria, mold, and fungi.
For the sake of your health, buy from an educated and trustworthy company to tell you what you need to know concerning the proper use, care, and functioning of sex toys.
Some sellers will resell returned and possibly used sex toys. There are actually stores that pride themselves on their easy returns and have documented themselves on public videos showing that their staff simply guesses if sex toys have been used or not by looking at them for a few seconds and then restocking them to sell again. In other cases, you have stores that claim they do not take returns, insisting that it is for the protection of their consumers and staff but then will turn around on the same page of their website and say that they will take returns if it is their own private label products. Well, which is it? You care about the safety of consumers only if it is certain products? Sex toy stores like this that provide conflicting information about their safety protocols make you wonder about their integrity.
Many sex toy manufacturers saw health benefits using 100% silicone to make sex toys because they are nonporous, hypoallergenic, phthalate-free, and long-lasting. The issue is that it's much more expensive to manufacture a sex toy using 100% silicone.
To cut costs, some manufacturers started branding non-silicone sex toys and marketed them as silicone blend sex toys to get consumers to buy them even when there was no silicone in them. For example, a common term was TPR Silicone, which became popular with many sex toy manufacturers when, in fact, it is not 100% pure silicone.
These materials are porous and fall under the category of materials such as elastomers, such as TPE or TPR. Many manufacturers make up names that can confuse consumers into thinking a sex toy is silicone when it is not. This matters because it can cause health issues if you are not aware of the differences.
Examples of non-silicone sex toys that sound like they are made of silicone are TPR-Silicone, Cyber-Silicone, and Silicone-Elastomer Blends. If a sex toy is not 100% silicone, then how you clean and store it will be vastly different. This is important so that you do not damage your sex toy and expose yourself to melting chemicals.
Another example of misleading information is when sex toy retailers claim that you cannot store silicone sex toys together, or they will melt. That is not correct; if a sex toy is pure silicone, it may be safely stored with another silicone product without any chemical melting. If they are two elastomer sex toys made of TPE or TPR then they cannot be stored together.
This confusion was created by some of the sex toy manufacturers' erroneously claiming that their sex toys were made from silicone or silicone blends when they were, in fact, made from elastomers. Consumers and even uneducated sex toy retailers were misled to think that these sex toys were silicone, so when they stored them together, and they melted, they assumed that you could not store two silicone sex toys together. The truth is that the sex toys were never silicone in the first place.
You can see that you practically need a degree in chemistry to understand what sex toys are made of and how to use and care for them. This is why we do all the research for you to make buying sex toys easy and safe. Our best advice for consumers is to shop only from sex toy retailers that have done their homework and disclose the materials used in a product along with resources that help you to understand what those materials are and how to best care for them. Like us!
See our sex toy & lubricant guides for more helpful information:
- Elastomers & Porous Sex Toys Guide
- Silicone Sex Toys: Is Yours Real?
- Toxic Sex Toys Guide
The Ultimate Personal Lubricant Guide
How To Clean Sex Toys Guide
- How To Store Sex Toys
- Fear-based Sex Toy Marketing Hype
Before you trust a company with your personal information, make sure that you use extreme caution when purchasing products that could put your health at risk, such as using a previously used sex toy.
Also, learn about their policies on protecting your personal information and how they plan to market to you in the future. Avoid companies that will send you unsolicited pornographic materials in the mail or sell your email, phone number, and address sold to third parties.
We Care About Your Privacy, Health & Safety
For more information about toxins in sex toys and how to use them, please see our Guide To Buying A Sex Toy and remember that we are a company that sincerely and passionately cares about your health and happiness. If you do not see a body safe product that you want on our site, please ask us about it as we most likely can special order it for you.
We have over two decades of experience in the sex toy industry, and our founder Lisa Lawless, Ph.D., has long been an advocate for the consumer and one of the first to bring to light many of these critical sex toy safety issues. We are here to assist you, so feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.