Did you know that between October of 2020 and July of this year, the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) seized over $2.5 billion in counterfeit goods? The math comes out to almost $35,000 per hour. The haul includes fake electronics, clothing, sunglasses, contact lenses, pharmaceuticals, car parts, batteries, cigarettes and even guns. Imagine how much more the CBP will have seized once this year’s record breaking holiday shopping season is over.
To help smart shoppers not get scammed, Homeland Security’s National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) has launched a new holiday shopping toolkit to help protect you from substandard or even hazardous counterfeit toys, electronics, cosmetics and other products.
The holiday shopping toolkit includes online shopping do’s and don’ts, ways to protect your financial and banking information, educational videos and infographics, and general information on how to spot fake merchandise.
So, what’s the harm in buying counterfeit products? Knock-off electronics can overheat and explode, bicycle helmets can break upon impact, phony cosmetics and health care products can be made with dangerous or unsanitary ingredients that should not come in contact with human skin and seasonal items for the home, like holiday lights, can be poorly wired and ignite fires.
Counterfeit goods not only cheat you with substandard and potentially hazardous products, but the websites selling the products themselves can be honeypots for unsuspecting shoppers to enter their personal and financial information, only to have it stolen or used for other nefarious purposes. Online shopping is particularly vulnerable to scams that trick the user into buying counterfeit and pirated goods.
Among the tips the IPR Center is providing for holiday shopping:
- Purchase goods only from reputable retailers and be wary of third-party vendors.
- Read product reviews on websites and research companies you aren’t familiar with.
- Check seller reviews and verify there is a working phone number and address for the seller, in case you have questions about the legitimacy of a product.
- If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Don’t buy expensive items from third party websites.
- Take advantage of security features. Passwords and other security tools add layers of protection if used appropriately.
- Check privacy policies. Take precautions when providing information, and make sure to check published privacy policies to see how a company will use or distribute your information.
- Check your statements. Keep a record of your purchases and copies of confirmation pages and compare them to your bank statements. If there is a discrepancy, report it immediately.
The full list and the guide is available here: https://www.ice.gov/topics/holiday-shopping
Stay safe out there!