HSI Seizes Haul of Holiday Counterfeits

We all rely on law enforcement to keep us safe. A network of dedicated officers, agents, analysts, and support staff across a variety of offices work every day to protect American citizens from danger. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) – the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – is a vital piece of this law enforcement puzzle. HSI officials are assigned to cities throughout the United States and to countries around the world to combat cross-border criminal activity.

This holiday season, HSI is increasingly focused on the fight against counterfeit goods. The threats presented by the counterfeit trade have far-reaching consequences. Counterfeit goods threaten job creation and economic development and stifle innovative and creative activity. Further, counterfeit goods can hurt consumers: a recent HSI initiative, Operation Engine Newity, has even found fake airbags that explode upon impact.

Yesterday, HSI’s Security Investigation Principal Field Office in New Orleans seized a batch of counterfeit goods. Officers confiscated potentially dangerous counterfeit cosmetics, shoes, electronics, and clothing. Fake makeup can cause severe allergic reactions; fake electronics, like phone chargers and headphones, can catch fire or explode.

Also among HSI’s haul: four large boxes of fake Fingerlings, one of the season’s hottest toys. Fingerlings are small plastic animals – like monkeys and sloths – that hang from a child’s fingers and perform more than 40 interactions in response to touch and sound. WowWee, the manufacturer of Fingerlings, has accused more than 150 sellers of selling counterfeit Fingerlings.

HSI warns that these counterfeit toys are not fun at all: counterfeit toys often contain high levels of lead and other compounds that can make children sick. One mother, who was duped into buying counterfeit Fingerlings, said the color of the toys quickly leached off the product onto her kids’ hands. She immediately took the toys from her children and reported them to authorities.

After the raid, the New Orleans officers held a press conference to caution the public against counterfeit goods.

During the press conference, GIPC’s Kasie Brill said, “As you consider purchases of toys, electronics, medicines, and makeup this holiday season, be vigilant. Scrutinize websites, look for secured transactions, and continue to use your best judgment. We all want a bargain, but you’d never want to bargain with your safety.”

HSI will continue to fight fakes, but they need consumers’ help. Learn how to identify and avoid counterfeit goods, and help teach your friends and family. Here are GIPC’s top ten tips to shop safe:

  1. Trust your instincts.If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
  2. Insist on secure transactions.When doing business online, make sure your payments are submitted via websites beginning with “https” (the “s” stands for secure) and look for a lock symbol at the bottom of your browser. This helps you know that you are working with a trustworthy retailer.
  3. Watch for missing sales tax charges.Businesses trading in counterfeit goods often do not report their sales to financial authorities – a difference you may notice in the price you ultimately pay, particularly in states that collect sales taxes.
  4. Seek quality assurance in the secondary market. Reputable and reliable resellers have comprehensive inspection and authentication procedures and technicians to inspect the equipment they sell.
  5. Buy medicines only from licensed pharmacy websites.Reports suggest that 96% of online pharmacies do not meet safety or legal standards. Trustworthy websites should be licensed by the relevant state board of pharmacy, should provide a licensed pharmacist to answer questions about your purchase, and should always require a prescription for prescription medicines.
  6. Be vigilant when buying abroad.When shopping on international websites, look for trusted vendors that use identifiable privacy and security safeguards and have legitimate addresses.
  7. Guard your personal information.Illicit websites often install malware that can steal your credit card information and other information stored on your computer. Don’t install add-ons or apps if you don’t know their purpose and don’t click on suspicious pop-up ads.
  8. Scrutinize labels, packaging, and contents.Look for missing or expired “use by” dates, broken or missing safety seals, missing warranty information, or otherwise unusual packaging.
  9. Report fake products.Report unsafe products to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  Consumers can play an important role in keeping the market free of fakes.
  10. Spread the word.Share these tips! Teach your family, friends, and coworkers about counterfeits.


Kasie Brill is the senior director of brand protection for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Innovation Policy Center. 

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