While you shop for gifts this holiday season, federal officials want you to keep an eye out for counterfeit products.
"There is an increasing problem with counterfeit goods being sold, in particular online," Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told KPCC.
Last year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security Investigations got their hands on more than 23,000 fake items across the country — which had an estimated cost of $1.2 billion, according to a statement by Homeland Security. Kice said counterfeit products can potentially place customers in danger, as well as affecting the American economy.
Knockoffs are sold in swap meets, flea markets and even pop-up stores, but Kice said more and more people are identifying counterfeit products online where shoppers are more vulnerable. While it is easier for someone to examine a product's authenticity in person, it's not possible when shoppers buy online.
Graham Thatcher is a brand protection associate for Deckers Brands, the corporation behind Ugg boots, and said buying items from counterfeit websites ruins the customer experience as gift recipients become disappointed when they realize the item is fake. He said it can also potentially lead to greater fraud.
"A lot of times the counterfeit websites will also steal personal data and credit card information and [it] turns into full identity fraud," he said.
Products popular with counterfeiters
According to Homeland Security, the following items are "increasingly popular with counterfeiters":
- cosmetic and beauty supplies
- protective helmets and other accessories for high-performance activities
- consumer electronics from headphones to cell phones
Kice said that it's important to watch out for counterfeit items because some can even lead to health hazards. Fake headphones can overheat and fake jewelry can have high levels of lead, she said.
How to avoid this happening to you
Uggs are a popular gift item during the holidays — and an item that is often counterfeited. Thatcher said that people should make sure they're buying the real thing. They has online resources where shoppers can verify where items are sold.
"We have dedicated Ugg anti-counterfeit Facebook and Twitter accounts with photos and videos to educate customers," he said. "We also list all of our authorized [online retailers] on our website."
If you can't find authorized online retailers for the item you're buying, look at the price.
"If you find a prestige product or a prestige brand for sale online at one-fifth, one-fourth of the manufacturer's suggested retail price, you're probably not getting a great deal — you're getting a counterfeit," Kice said.
She also added that an unusual web address or lack of contact information, or websites offering models or products that aren't being offered elsewhere, are red flags.
"If something sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is." Kice said.