Last year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized 25,000 shipments of counterfeit goods that were making their way into the country. The total value of that loot: $178.9 million. Here are a few of the top fakes and how to spot them:
Value of counterfeits seized: $39 million
Retail value: $101.2 million
Percentage of total seizures: 22%
When it comes to total dollar value, consumer electronics make up the bulk of counterfeit goods imported into the U.S., according to Customs and Border Protection. Among the hottest items: smart phones, tablet computers and DVD or music players.
While some items are clearly fakes, in some cases, even technophiles will have a hard time telling a phony from an iPhone. "We seized one tablet that looks like an iPad, but ran on an Android operating system -- that was pretty easy to figure out. With others, the look and feel is very, very similar," said Therese Randazzo, director of IPR policy and programs for the CBP.
Variations can be as subtle as the placement of the on/off switch or the color of the button, Randazzo said. She recommends referring to the product ID guide for specifications, which can typically be found on the manufacturer's site. An even safer bet: Purchase the electronics from authorized retailers.
Value of counterfeits seized: $25.3 million
Retail value: $97 million
Percentage of total seizures: 14%
Counterfeit shoes used to consist mostly of Nike knock-offs and other athletic footwear, but these days the fakes are going high-end. Counterfeiters are now selling luxury brands like Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo, which retail for upwards of $600. And of course, there are those ever-popular Ugg boots that cost $200 a pop for the real deal.
Good fakes go way beyond the painted red sole that those Louboutins are known for, however. A clever counterfeit includes a replica shoebox, dust bag and even minor packaging details like the tiny moisture-absorbing micro-tech insert, said Randazzo.
She recommends steering clear of sales at flea markets or street vendors. But with shoes, the best way to spot a fake may just be the old Cinderella method, "when you put them on, you'll know," Randazzo said.
[Also see: Are no-name batteries a good value?]
Value of counterfeits seized: $16.9 million
Retail value: $25.2 million
Percentage of total seizures: 9%
Buying counterfeit drugs -- from prescription pills to over-the-counter medications -- can potentially be very dangerous, according to Randazzo. Most likely, those meds were not manufactured according to the FDA's standards and do not contain the proper amount of active ingredients, if any at all.
For example, one of the most popular counterfeits, Viagra, which is used to treat erectile dysfunction, could contain brick powder, flour and gypsum wall, according to John Clark, chief security officer of Pfizer which makes the drug. And chances are they were also not stored in sanitary conditions and could be contaminated -- in other words, you could end up worse off than you started.
CDs and DVDs
Value of counterfeits seized: $15.6 million
Retail value: $35 million
Percentage of total seizures: 9%
As a result of internet piracy, movies, music, exercise videos, business software and educational material have become increasingly easy to rip off, costing the U.S.-based motion picture and recording industry colossal sums.
These days the fakes available on nearly every city street corner look just like the legitimate versions. In fact, exact copies of the packaging and labels make spotting a fake tricky. To avoid getting duped, Randazzo suggests staying away from too-new releases. "If you have a DVD of a movie that just came out last week, that's going to be fake."
Value of counterfeits seized: $14.8 million
Retail value: $126.3 million
Percentage of total seizures: 8%
Clothes, particularly popular jeans and sports jerseys, are among the most common counterfeit goods seized at U.S. ports, according to CBP's Randazzo.
Most fakes are manufactured in China and can very closely resemble the real brands also made there. But with a little sleuthing, it's clear that the knock-offs are not the same. Cost-cutting counterfeits will use cheaper substitutes on the fabric and zippers, which will likely wear out or break quickly. To spot a fake, check for details like the brand name on the buttons and lesser-quality stitching around the pockets and hems, Randazzo advised.
Click here for the full list of Top 10 Counterfeit Goods.
- Customs and Border Protection