Customs agents seize record number of counterfeit items

Phony goods would have been worth more than $1.38 billion if genuine

By Vic Micolucci - Reporter, anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - New numbers show federal officers seized more counterfeit items last year than ever before.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers said they've seized a record number of shipments containing illegal, phony goods totaling more than $1 billion.

Most of the items came through the mail from overseas.

A few months ago, customs officers from North Florida took the I-TEAM behind the scenes to see the items they’ve counterfeited locally. They said the problem was bigger than ever and that fake goods disguised as the real thing are coming into our area every day.

I-TEAM: Epidemic of counterfeit items puts your family at risk

Seizing the items has been a top priority for these federal agencies. They said not only are the producers of the items violating the rights of real companies, but the items themselves are putting you and your families at risk.

"This could potentially burn down your house or your office," U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer Ben Wilkerson said.

Across the U.S. in 2016, officers seized goods that, if genuine, would be worth more than $1.38 billion. That number comes from more than 31,000 cases.

Officers arrested 451 people in relation to the crimes.

Fake hoverboards, which pose a serious fire risk, were a huge problem. More than 108,000 were seized last year.

Officers confiscated handbags and wallets that would be worth $234 million, if real.

But the most popular counterfeit goods were watches and jewelry disguised as name brands that would be worth $653 million.

"I am very confident that these are fake," Officer Candido Higuera said.

Locally, officers told News4Jax that fake YETI Ramblers were huge on the black market, and there’s the possibility the fakes could contain harmful chemicals such as lead.

"I would be concerned," Higuera said. "I would be like, 'Geez, am I giving something that would ultimately hurt my children?'"

The items seized run the gambit from counterfeit toilets to phony Super Bowl rings.

The officers said most of the illegal goods were produced and shipped from China and Hong Kong, places where these copyright violations run rampant.

"I don't care," Wilkerson said. "They are in it for the buck. It will be sent letters. They will actually have the Chinese government go to their factories and try to shut them down and they will pop up somewhere else."

Federal officers said intentionally buying the items isn’t just a crime, it’s putting your family at risk. That’s because the phony manufacturers can use toxic chemicals, and the items aren’t up to America’s strict safety standards. But when News4Jax checked, the counterfeit items were on sale all over the city -- from Craigslist to flea markets.

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