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KFOX14 Investigates: Federal agents pull $5 million worth of counterfeit merchandise

KFOX14 Investigates: Federal agents pull $5 million worth of counterfeit merchandise

Cracking down on counterfeit items, this holiday season, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigation agents say they see a spike in fake merchandise, a multibillion-dollar industry.

It might seem like a great deal when you’re getting gifts for everyone on your list, but ICE agents show KFOX14 Investigates that counterfeit goods are making their way into places you least expect.

When you make your Christmas list, you check it twice. HSI El Paso Special Agent in Charge Jack Staton says you should check your gift twice, too.

“Counterfeiters will counterfeit anything. Automotive parts, toothpaste, shampoo, chapstick,” said Staton. He said they’ve even seen things like counterfeit toner for printers and brake pads for cars.

There are some items you might expect, like knockoff handbags and fake sports jerseys.

KFOX14 Investigates learned almost 500 counterfeit items with a combined $5 million price tag were seized in the El Paso sector this year.

“We are looking at protecting public health and safety,” said Staton.

This year, agents say they're seeing more fake makeup and contact lenses than ever before, which can be a safety hazard for consumers, because counterfeiters will put anything into the product.

“In some cases, we've had lead in there. We've had sheet rock crushed up,” he said.

Another hot-ticket item this year: retro video game systems.

Staton says counterfeit electronics like headphones are also dangerous.

“They can get too hot and actually catch on fire,” Staton said.

El Paso shoppers said they're careful about what they buy.

"I see them, I feel them and sometimes I buy them where I've bought them before. That way, I know which ones have better quality and which ones don't,” said Ana Sanchez.

“You're not going to compare like $20 to $200. You know it's fake, I think,for the price,” said another shopper.

Staton said these days, a price point may no longer be a red flag.

Many of the counterfeiters are selling their merchandise for only 5 to 10 percent less than an original.

These days, a lot of it is happening online.

“Some people sell them out of their houses, internet, social media, they clone legitimate websites,” said Staton.

So pay special attention to the website's address and the payment system it uses.

“It's not a victimless crime,” said Staton.

Counterfeiters often use child labor, and the money goes back to support organized crime, gangs and terrorist groups.

It also hinders businesses in the U.S.

“You are hurting the whole industry that goes along with that,” said Staton.

ICE tells me a majority of the counterfeited goods come from China and are then shipped to the United States.

They actually see more fake goods going to Mexico than coming from Mexico.

There are consequences for buying knockoffs, which can range from fines to jail time.

Report fake products: https://www.iprcenter.gov/.

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