Thousands of products sold on ­Amazon.com are unsafe or expired, according to a pair of recent investigations. When The Wall Street Journal investigated, it uncovered more than 4,000 products that had been banned, recalled or otherwise declared unsafe by US government agencies…or that included deceptive labeling. 

These products included children’s toys recalled as choking hazards…over-the-counter medicines lacking proper health warnings…electrical devices that falsely claimed to have been certified as safe by the testing company UL…and ­motorcycle helmets that failed government safety tests. Meanwhile, an examination of the 100 best-selling food products on Amazon by data analysis firm 3PM and CNBC found that at least 40% of the merchants selling these foods on Amazon had five or more customer complaints involving expired goods. 

The majority of these unsafe and expired products are sold on Amazon but not by Amazon—they’re sold by third-party merchants that pay to list their merchandise on the site. To make things more confusing, third-party merchandise often is stored in ­Amazon warehouses and shipped by Amazon. What to do…

Examine product listings on Amazon.com carefully before buying—items listed as “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com” appear to be less likely to have safety problems than those sold by other merchants through Amazon. 

Before buying from any third-party Amazon seller, click that seller’s name (it appears right below the “Buy Now” button) and scan the feedback from other customers for negative reviews noting expired foods or safety issues. Note: Don’t be overly swayed by the presence of rave reviews if there also are many of these negative comments—the raves could be fake. 

Amazon has a reasonable return policy, so there often is a solution if you spot a problem after a purchase arrives—in most cases, defective items can be shipped back to Amazon within 30 days, with Amazon covering the ­shipping costs.