Feds warn of counterfeit goods before the holiday shopping rush


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The problem of counterfeit goods reaches far beyond popular handbags.

The business of trafficking phony products is a growing problem here in the United States.

“A wide range of counterfeit products have been seized including counterfeit sports jerseys, clothing, gaming system accessories, purses and bags, vehicle airbags, sunglasses and perfume,” said Rose Brophy, director of field operations for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the Buffalo-area.

With holiday shopping season about to kick into high gear, federal authorities are warning consumers not to get suckered by cheap knockoffs.

“You’ve got to be an educated consumer yourself,” said Kevin Kelly, special agent-in-charge of Homeland Security Investigations.

“The estimated industry loss of revenue to United States businesses annually is $700 billion,” Kelly said.

Fake stuff is out there; everything from high-end electronics to toothpaste and deodorant.

“Some of which are imitations. Some of which are just very poor quality, and some of which are just outright dangerous,” Brophy explained during a news conference outside a Buffalo Sabres store at the KeyBank Center.

U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr. explained that sometimes the proceeds from counterfeit goods don’t even end up in the country where they’re made.

“They’re funneled through different organizations,” Kennedy said. “We’ve had a number of cases where the money, we were able to trace it right to registered terrorist organizations.”

“It may seem that you get a shirt that’s close enough to an authentic Sabres jersey, but you’re really doing multiple harms beyond what you might even imagine in terms of not only the manufacturers themselves but maybe the conditions in which they’re manufactured,” Kennedy added.

According to a 2016 report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the country responsible for the biggest share of counterfeit production is China; almost two-thirds of fake goods originate there, the report found.

“In reality, if it’s a popular holiday gift, chances are there’s a counterfeit of it,” said Kelly.

Kelly says consumers who purchase counterfeit goods could be funding criminal organizations “at the expense of American jobs and the United States economy.”

“Many Americans more and more are being tricked by criminal organizations that traffick counterfeit products into believing they are purchasing legitimate goods on legitimate websites,” he added.

Kelly and other federal law enforcement officials say consumers are the first line of defense when it comes to the knockoff problem.

They advise consumers to watch where products are purchased online and only trust familiar retailers before ordering.

“If the price seems just too good to be true, it probably is,” said Rose Brophy.

Authorities are also warning about cyber threats during the holiday season as fraudsters look to steal personal information that could lead to identity theft.

“Do not click on these links that come in through these email phishing scams. These links that you go to, it may look like it comes from a legitimate business, however the fraudster wants you to think that,” said Lewis Robinson, special agent-in-charge of the U.S. Secret Service office in Buffalo. “You click on that link you’ve now downloaded malware to your computer. Quite possibly ransomware to your computer.’

Robinson recommends strong email passwords that are changed often and updating antivirus software on computer devices.

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