ICE warns public of holiday scams


WASHINGTON — A group of federal partners at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) teamed with industry and nonprofit organizations to warn consumers to be wary of holiday shopping scams designed to dupe them into buying counterfeit products.

Federal agencies will be conducting increased operations during the holiday season targeting the importation and distribution of counterfeit and pirated products. Enforcement operations will be conducted by special agents, officers and import specialists from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA OCI). This year, the federal government is teaming with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC) and the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) to help get the word out to consumers about the dangers these products pose.

During the weeks leading up to the end of the year, the market is flooded with counterfeit products being sold at stores, on street corners and online, not only ripping the consumer off and providing shoddy products, but also putting their personal financial information at risk. The most popular counterfeit products seized each year include headphones, sports jerseys, personal care products, shoes, toys, luxury goods, cell phones and electronic accessories.

Once it is determined that the items are counterfeit, federal officials will seize the merchandise. But in many instances, the damage to the consumer and the economy has already been done.

“These holiday law enforcement operations are designed to seize illegal products, identify criminal networks and protect consumers. They are also a great example of the tremendous cooperation between all of our law enforcement and industry partners at the IPR Center,” said Lev Kubiak, director of the ICE-led IPR Center. “Consumers need to be aware that counterfeiters don’t care if the products you buy are well made, if they make you sick, or if they arrive at all. These criminals are preying on your holiday spirit of giving to make a quick buck and fund their criminal enterprises.”

“The FBI urges the American public to be skeptical about offers that sound too good to be true when doing their holiday shopping,” said Ronald Hosko, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “Counterfeit merchandise dilutes legitimate brand-name products and can even be dangerous. The FBI works with our law enforcement partners and the private sector to protect intellectual property rights. We need consumers to help us in these efforts by not buying knockoff goods.”

“Counterfeit goods threaten American innovation, the competitiveness of its businesses, the livelihood of its workers and the health and safety of consumers who purchase inferior products that do not meet federal safety standards,” said CBP International Trade Assistant Commissioner Richard DiNucci. “Customs and Border Protection remains vigilant in our commitment to keep products made from stolen intellectual property out of the U.S. and, through our partnership with HSI and our other Federal counterparts, is working to ensure that those responsible for trade in counterfeit goods are held accountable under the law.”

“Consumers should be aware that holiday offers that are too good to be true can mask a fraud,” said John Roth, director of FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations. “The FDA is on the alert and will take action to stop illegal practices related to FDA-regulated products.”

“The holiday season should be a time of families joining together, enjoying holiday lights, and safely powering household appliances,” said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. “CPSC is working with our federal safety and law enforcement partners to help keep holiday lights, extension cords, and other electrical products that can pose shock and fire hazards out of the hands of consumers.”

In the coming weeks, the GIPC will launch a consumer awareness campaign to assist in the overall educational effort, including the release of Top Ten Tips to Protect Yourself for shoppers now and throughout the year.

“A lump of coal and stale fruitcakes are not the only worries shoppers have this holiday season,” said David Hirschmann, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s GIPC. “The explosion of counterfeit products at this time of year, and the criminal networks behind them, can hurt the U.S. economy and consumers with potentially dangerous fakes. Increased enforcement efforts targeting these nefarious activities during this season is a win-win—good for business and good for consumers. The Chamber applauds these efforts and supports continuing the resources necessary to keep this important work vibrant and growing.”

To further raise awareness of the far-reaching and detrimental consequences of counterfeits and other forms of intellectual property theft, NCPC will release a new video and blog post in preparation for Cyber Monday.

“With Black Friday approaching, consumers will be shopping for bargains,” said NCPC President and CEO Ann M. Harkins. “They may be getting more than they bargained for if they do not shop through legitimate stores and websites. Telltale signs of counterfeit products include missing product information, strange or incomplete packaging, and deals that are far too good to be true, especially from unfamiliar vendors. Reducing demand for counterfeit and pirated products is what NCPC’s IP Theft public education campaign (www.ncpc.org/getreal) is all about. We’re proud to work with the U.S. Department of Justice and these federal partners to raise awareness about the potential harmful effects of purchasing counterfeit products.”

The HSI-led IPR Center is one of the U.S. government’s key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. Working in close coordination with the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 21-member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to intellectual property theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public’s health and safety and the U.S. economy.