WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, New York City (WABC) -- An "epidemic" of counterfeit products being sold online are duping millions, according to the Better Business Bureau.
One of them is Laura Virella, a mezzo-soprano from Washington Heights who's played tragic heroines like Carmen and Frida Kahlo -- and "counterfeit victim" is a new, unwanted title on her impressive resume.
She thought she was buying a real AncestryDNA kit online, a gift for her parents and her 100-year-old grandma in Puerto Rico. She found the DNA-testing kits on a website called ZoooDeals.com.
After Virella paid $200 on her debit card, her relatives actually received authentic-looking kits. They followed instructions, filling vials with saliva and mailing them.
But when she called the company to check on results, Ancestry told her the vial numbers were already used to test someone else's DNA.
When Virella tried to reach out to ZoooDeals.com for a refund, the website was down, and her emails bounced back.
"(Counterfeit products) cost the U.S. economy somewhere between $200 and $250 billion each year," said Claire Rosenzweig, president and CEO of the Metro New York Better Business Bureau.
Rosenzweig said counterfeiting is exploding on social media.
"Scammers have gotten so slick. They're producing with really sophisticated websites and ads you may see on social media. They are driving you where they want to drive you, and it's usually not where you're gonna find the legitimate product," Rosenzweig said.
She said counterfeit products can even be dangerous, especially when victims buy health and beauty products.
"If you're buying a supplement or some cream, you could literally be hurting yourself," Rosenzweig said. "You could be hurting your family. You don't know what you're ingesting. You don't know what's in that cream you're putting on your skin."
A representative from Ancestry warned against purchasing from unauthorized re-sellers.
Customers should only use their company website, Ancestry.com, or buy products from authorized retailers on Amazon or eBay.
Some more big takeaways: When buying online, use credit, not debit. You'll have more recourse against fraud.
If you're a victim of fraud, remember that you have just 60 days from when your monthly statement is sent to dispute.
And if you're ever ripped off, report the fraud using the BBB's Scam Tracker.
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Washington Heights woman scammed by website selling fake DNA kits
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