It was supposed to be a nice thing, to celebrate the solar eclipse and her birthday.

Vancouver realtor Candace Rohrick was giving away more than 1,200 free solar eclipse glasses — a hot commodity needed to safely view the Aug. 21 eclipse.

But after she started handing them out — and put about 150 packets of them in the mail Sunday night — she got a tip Monday that what she thought were ISO-certified glasses might be fakes.

"I'm totally heartbroken by this," Rohrick told CBC News.

"We have not had anything confirmed, but we definitely want to be safe and just say that they're not to be used."

Authorities, including the Better Business Bureau in Vancouver, have been warning about fake glasses being sold online, and mega-retailer Amazon is contacting consumers who may have bought counterfeit glasses through its website.

The risks are serious. Without proper protection, the sun can burn and scar the retinal tissue of your eye, so relying on fake glasses to watch the eclipse could result in permanent eye damage.

Solar eclipse

Amazon says it has contacted and issued refunds to some customers who purchased glasses to watch the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse that 'may not comply with industry standards.' (Exploratorium/NASA)

Real vs. fake

When Rohrick's husband, Preston, ordered the glasses online, he thought he'd checked for all the proper symbols to know whether their light-filtering properties had been tested by an accredited laboratory.

They looked identical to ones sold on Amazon, said Preston Rohrick, but he purchased them in bulk from a vendor on the retail website AliExpress for around $1 US per pair.

They have a stamp claiming to meet ISO (International Organization for Standardization) requirements, as well as other markings and the name of a brand that's listed as trusted by the American Astronomical Society.

Eclipse glasses

The glasses Rohrick purchased appeared to be made by a trusted company. But the fine print inside didn't match what the company's website says should be on their authentic glasses. (Candace Rohrick)

That company, American Paper Optics based in Bartlett, Tenn., has said it started ramping up production two years ago, and expects to make 50 million plastic and paper eclipse glasses for this celestial event.

Rohrick offered the glasses for free on her website, and people could sign up for two to four pairs to be delivered in time for the eclipse.

However, after a local paper wrote about Rohrick's giveaway, a reader suggested the glasses might not be real, said Rohrick.

She learned of this mid-afternoon Monday — with hundreds of glasses already on their way to people — and scrambled to check out the claim.

She realized her glasses didn't have the address of the company — one of the markings the company's website says should appear on legitimate glasses.

"I am deeply sorry about this event and I feel totally crushed," said Rohrick.

"We contacted American Paper optics which we can't get a hold of. We contacted our supplier. We cannot get a hold of them, so we've elected to just not give them out.'"

American Paper Optics

American Paper Optics is one of the trusted brands according to the American Astronomical Society, but it warns that knockoffs exist that haven't gone through the same safety certification. (American Paper Optics)

As for the glasses already delivered, Rohrick is emailing and calling everyone who got them, and even got Canada Post to take the extraordinary step of pulling the packages she put in the mail the night before.

"They were only able to do this because of the risk involved."

The Rohricks have reported the glasses to AliExpress, owned by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, as a suspicious product, and received an email back that said "the reported listing(s) are neither prohibited or controlled item(s) under our Product Listing Policy."

Alibaba has not responded to a request from CBC News for comment.

Desperate for glasses

Meanwhile, people who don't yet have their hands on eclipse glasses are finding dwindling options.

The American Astronomical Society warns most vendors are sold out. In Vancouver, Science World and the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre were offering them but supplies are gone. (Both will have eclipse viewers available at their public events.)

London Drugs appears sold out too.

Eclipse

Cardboard frames for solar eclipse glasses are stacked in the American Paper Optics factory in Bartlett, Tenn. (Associated Press)

Yesterday, even as Rohrick was on the phone alerting people not to use her glasses, others were calling hoping she still had some.

"I'm getting emails and phone calls constantly, people desperately looking for the glasses."

As for the eclipse itself, Rohrick's family had planned a happy trip to Oregon for her birthday, reserving a coveted hotel room in the zone where the total eclipse can be seen.

Now, the first priority is dealing with the glasses, then reassessing their travel plans.

"We'll figure out something, but this definitely put a damper on it."

SOLAR-ECLIPSE March 20 2015 phases panoramic Svalbard

Canada will only see a partial eclipse of the sun by the moon, that will vary depending on where you are, reaching about 90 per cent in Victoria. (Jon Olav Nesvold/NTB scanpix/Reuters)