The Solar Eclipse Has Spawned an Industry of Counterfeits

Your “eclipse-safe” glasses might not be so safe, after all, according to a handful of reports leading up to the "Great American Total Solar Eclipse.” Set to darken the skies across the U.S. on August 21, the eclipse has experts calling for the use of special eye protection. The problem:  “The market has been overrun with counterfeits and fakes, and many of them were being sold on Amazon,” said Richard Fienberg, a spokesman for the American Astronomical Society, told the Washington Post. “It’s become a complete freaking mess.”

A big part of that mess? Amazon. According to Bloomberg, the need for special eye protection in order to safely take in Monday’s eclipse, the likes of which won’t happen again until 2045, has given rise to a whole new slew of fakes. The surge in demand has “created a challenge for online marketplaces like Amazon,” which is designed to enable just about anyone to seamlessly create an account and begin offering products for sale, both legitimate businesses and counterfeit-sellers, alike, are using the upcoming event as a way to make a quick profit.

"Sellers of fake solar eclipse glasses have a unique opportunity to exploit the weaknesses of e-commerce websites in a short period of time," Craig Crosby, publisher of The Counterfeit Report, which monitors websites for fake products, told Bloomberg. "The problem is that anybody, anywhere, can sell just about anything on Amazon and eBay, including counterfeit glasses that may be dangerous. Buyers won’t discover their error until after the eclipse, or they suffer serious or permanent eye damage. The sellers will be long gone."

Also problematic is the fact that most of the companies whose eyewear has been approved by the American Astronomical Society have run out of inventory, making the potential profits for counterfeiters, who are printing eclipse-safe text on the inside of the frames of fake glasses, even greater.

And Amazon is well aware of the potential litigation that it could face – due to the existence of the doctrine of secondary liability – in connection with the widespread sales of fakes on its site, and as a result, has taken to issuing warnings and offering refunds to customers who purchased glasses from its site that have been deemed to be potentially unsafe.

In an effort to weed out counterfeit sellers, Amazon has “requested documentation from merchants to prove the glasses they were selling had been tested and were deemed safe for viewing the eclipse; those who didn’t comply risked being suspended,” per Bloomberg. Additionally, the site has started requiring third-party sellers to provide documentation showing that their glasses are compliant with safety standards. A spokeswoman said the company is doing so “out of an abundance of caution and in the interests of our customers.”

As of the days leading up to the eclipse, most listings on Amazon are sold out. On eBay, solar-safe glasses — which typically retail for between $1 and $30 — are selling for up to $24,000 a pair, in some cases. A spokesman for the site told the Washington Post that its employees have been “actively monitoring” the site’s listings for unsafe items.

This is just the latest blow to many third party market place sites, including Amazon, which have been swiftly losing consumer confidence thanks to vast amounts of ever-present fakes being offered, ranging from non-FDA approved cosmetics posing as the real thing to designer bags that mirror Paris-based brand Chanel's designs.