Jason Wright wanted to make a quick buck selling eclipse-viewing glasses on Amazon.com Inc. before the moon blocks the sun in a rarely seen cosmic spectacle next week. He loaded up his credit cards to buy thousands of pairs from a manufacturer, enlisted family and friends to pack and ship them from his parents’ Salt Lake City home and watched the orders pour in. Then Amazon suspended his account.
Wright, 35, had been caught up in an Amazon crackdown on fake shades that could damage people’s eyes. Now he’s worried about paying his rent, let alone turning a profit. “After the eclipse these glasses are worthless,” says Wright, who invested about $4,000 in cardboard eyewear that resembles 3-D movie glasses. “I’ll just throw them in the trash.”
The “Great American Total Solar Eclipse” will darken the skies from Oregon to South Carolina Aug. 21 in a cross-country eclipse the likes of which won’t happen again until 2045. The need for special eye protection to watch the eclipse creates a challenge for online marketplaces like Amazon since there is a sudden surge of demand for a product not usually sold. Amazon is designed to let virtually anyone quickly create an account and begin selling items, making its inventory more free-wheeling than a typical brick-and-mortar retailer.
“Sellers of fake solar eclipse glasses have a unique opportunity to exploit the weaknesses of e-commerce websites in a short period of time,” says Craig Crosby, publisher of The Counterfeit Report, which monitors websites for fake products. “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…