ICE issues sophisticated knock-off warning to holiday shoppers

- As the holiday season approaches, federal authorities are warning shoppers about the risk of buying counterfeit items.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) the problem is widespread. According to HSI, the department has seized $1.2 billion (MSRP price) of counterfeit merchandise so far in 2015.

Kit Welsh, Assistant Special Agent in Charge in San Jose, said the growing sophistication of counterfeiters can make it difficult for shoppers to determine the “real” from the “steal.”

At a media conference held on Black Friday, Welsh showed KTVU several fake items seized by authorities. The most recent HSI bust happened earlier this month at the De Anza College flea market in Cupertino, with the help of investigators from the Foothill-De Anza Police Department.

Welsh said buyers should know the downside.

“They are giving money to potentially criminal enterprises and they’re putting their health and safety at risk,” she said.

Some imitation products could leave buyers with flammable clothes, rashes on their skin, and inactive ingredients in medicine. Welsh said they even had a case of perfume made of horse urine.

“It’s a fun place to go, but I would not buy my luxury items at a flea market,” Welsh said.

Counterfeiters may be good at their craft, but the quality of the products is a tell-tale sign.

Signs to look out for include; poor stitching, labels or tags cut in half, and leather-imitation products that don’t smell like leather.

Welsh said holiday shopping aside, phony sporting merchandise may increase as we approach Super Bowl 50. She said a buyer’s best bet is to purchase from reputable dealers and websites.

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