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Dangerous, recalled toys can still be found online during the holiday shopping season, consumer advocates warn

Nov. 22, 2022 Updated Tue., Nov. 22, 2022 at 8:33 p.m.

Consumer advocates were able to purchase more than 30 toys online that had been recalled. One of them was the Early Learning Centre Little Senses Lights & Sounds Shape Sorter. About 9,300 were recalled Oct. 13, 2022, because the red cube can come apart and release a small white ball, posing a choking hazard. (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission/TNS)  (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission/TNS/TNS)
Consumer advocates were able to purchase more than 30 toys online that had been recalled. One of them was the Early Learning Centre Little Senses Lights & Sounds Shape Sorter. About 9,300 were recalled Oct. 13, 2022, because the red cube can come apart and release a small white ball, posing a choking hazard. (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission/TNS) (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission/TNS/TNS)
By Lisa Schencker Chicago Tribune

Before everyone starts piling toys into their real life and online shopping carts this Black Friday, Illinois consumer advocates have a message: Be careful.

A number of dangerous, recalled toys are still readily available online, according to a new report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) Education Fund that was discussed at a news conference at Lurie Children’s Hospital on Tuesday. The researchers behind the report searched for 16 toys that had been recalled and found 11 of them on Facebook marketplace, eBay and some online toy shops.

“We were able to find toys that had been recalled days, weeks, months and even years after the recall,” said Abe Scarr, director of the Illinois PIRG Education Fund.

The toys included Army action figures that were recalled last month for excessive levels of phthalates and lead; a colorful looping toy that was recalled because it presented a choking hazard; and a play tent recalled because it didn’t meet industry flammability standards, according to the report. Other recalled items included a ride-on toy for toddlers, bath toys and a stuffed animal.

In 2020, nearly 200,000 people, including 79,000 children ages 4 and younger, went to emergency departments because of toy-related injuries, according to the report.

“Recalled products should have no place in our marketplaces or in our homes,” said Nancy Cowles, executive director of Chicago-based advocacy group Kids in Danger. “The sad news about most of these recalled products you’re seeing here today, along with the ones in the guide, almost all of them will remain in use and in homes because companies do such a poor job of alerting families to recalls.”

She said she’d like to see companies handle recalls the same way they handle the marketing of toys, such as by trying to reach consumers through social media ads and influencers.

“Parents may not hear about a recall if they’re not listening or paying attention to the news on that particular day,” she said.

She said it’s alarming that researchers were able to find so many recalled toys for sale online. Federal law prohibits any person from selling products that have been recalled, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Researchers behind the report said that after they had already received several of the toys, eBay emailed to warn them that the toys had been recalled and not to use them. Four other sellers canceled the purchases before the items shipped.

None of the other sellers warned the researchers that the toys had been recalled, according to the report.

In a statement, eBay said: “eBay works closely with a range of regulatory agencies across the world to promote product safety and protect consumers from unsafe products. We take product recalls very seriously and monitor announcements from the (Consumer Product Safety Commission) to ensure recalled items are blocked or removed. We are pleased the PIRG team received one of our recall notices demonstrating our commitment to monitoring for and notifying consumers of recalls.”

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, said Tuesday its policies prohibit the sale of recalled items, and that it works with interest groups, manufacturers, governments and regulatory bodies to identify recalled goods. Facebook enforces its commerce policies through its commerce review system, which is largely automated and reviews listings for items before they go live.

Researchers were not able to find any of the recalled toys on Amazon.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission told researchers that in the past year, it expanded its team that deals with online commerce and made more than 54,000 internet “take down requests,” according to the report.

Parents and others buying toys this holiday season can do their part by being vigilant and watching for red flags, consumer advocates and doctors said Tuesday.

If someone is having trouble finding an in-demand toy, and then suddenly finds it for a low price, that could mean that the toy is a counterfeit version. Counterfeit toys are knockoffs of brand-name toys that may not meet mandatory U.S. safety standards.

Shoppers can also determine whether a toy is a choking hazard by seeing if it fits through the middle of a toilet paper tube. If it fits, it may not be safe for young children.

When buying used toys or donating old toys, parents should check for signs of wear that could make a toy unsafe, Scarr said.

The Illinois attorney general’s office is also urging parents, before they shop, to look through its safe shopping guide, which includes pictures and descriptions of nearly 100 toys and children’s products that have been recalled.

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