U.S. Homeland Security agents are the first line of defense for America’s security and safety, and this holiday season they are working overtime to not only keep terrorism at bay but also help people from being ripped off. During this time of year, one of agents’ biggest jobs is keeping counterfeit merchandise from entering the country.
Online and mobile retail sites have become major driving forces in the American consumer economy. The U.S. Census Bureau says Americans bought more than $200 billion worth of merchandise online thus far this year. More than $35 billion of that came during the holiday season.
Homeland Security officials say that high tech retail buying madness creates a vulnerability which criminals are now rushing to exploit.
In years past, U.S. customs and border protection officers seized millions of dollars-worth of counterfeit and make merchandise. Almost all of it was bought by American consumers online and then shipped into the country. This year, agents expect to seize a record haul of fake merchandise coming from overseas.
"We have this stuff come in all the time every day” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent Frank Falcon.
Falcon works at the international mail room at San Francisco’s airport as a supervisory officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
At his office, Falcon and his officers have to scrutinize 40,000 packages a day, determining which ones are Christmas presents, and which are counterfeit shipments.
"It looks like the real thing you go on line and buy this thinking you're buying the real thing and somebody is making a big profit off of your gift ideas," which Falcon says is “Ripping you off.”
The Better Business Bureau has tips for those doing late Christmas shopping or making exchanges to avoid getting stuck with counterfeit goods.
The Bureau recommends always dealing with reputable businesses, when in doubt it says to call the manufacturer to see which sellers are authorized to distribute their product. Misspelled labels and poorly sewn logos can also be indications of counterfeit goods.