NASHVILLE, TN.- The business of selling fake goods did not slow down during the pandemic, as people are relying more than ever on online shopping. The US Customs and Border Protection wants to inform consumers to be mindful of counterfeit goods and services.

“Just since the pandemic began. CBP has seized over 20 million counterfeit masks,” Brandon Lord, Acting Executive Director for Trades Policy with US Customs and Border Protection said.

Counterfeit pharmaceuticals are also a huge concern for them.

"It's difficult for the American consumer to look at a pill or look at another pharmaceutical product, and quickly identify that it's counterfeit,” Lord said.

From October 1, 2019 – September 30, 2020, the top 5 categories of goods CBP seized by total number of shipments were:

1. Handbags and Wallets (17% of total shipments seized)

2. Wearing Apparel and Accessories (14%)

3. Footwear (13%)

4. Watches and Jewelry (13%)

5. Consumer Electronics (11%)

Counterfeit goods not only hurt legitimate businesses, but they also pose serious threats to the health and safety of American consumers. Counterfeit N95s and fake versions of other face masks may not be effective at filtering airborne particles or at preventing liquid from contaminating the user’s face.

Data concerning seizures of counterfeit goods for previous years can be found at CBP.gov.

Early in the pandemic, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection reviewed trade data and existing supply networks and started to watch for new importers, new places of import, and new manufactures.

The department says they worked closely with the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and other government agencies to better understand federal standards for goods necessary to the COVID-19 response.

CBP also worked with pharmaceutical and PPE manufacturers to better understand their product standards. From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic through February 2021, CBP seized:

Officials say if you want to make sure you’re getting the real deal, remember the three P’s:

Price: Prices that seem too good to be true are a usually associated with counterfeit goods. When shopping, check that the price and product quality are typical of authentic goods. Take note, however, that counterfeiters may lower the price only a little to appear legitimate.

Packaging: Check certification marks and trademarks. Compare markings and packaging artwork to known authentic goods. Authentic packaging is usually high quality and the products are tightly packed. Look for peeling labels, low-quality ink or printing errors, and loose products

inside the box.

Place: When shopping at a store or online, buy directly from brand owners or from authorized retailers. Unknown third-party sellers may be counterfeiters. A 2018 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that close to half the products purchased online from third-party sellers on popular websites were counterfeits

The biggest tell for counterfeit goods is almost always the artificially-low price of the item. Buying the item directly from the legitimate trademark holder is the best way to ensure that you are not purchasing a counterfeit product. In addition to low quality packaging, handbag/apparel consumers should be on the lookout for things like poor or uneven stitching, improperly sized or discolored logos, and the use of synthetic materials in place of natural materials.

For consumer electronics, telltale signs are things like short battery life, regular overheating, and poor performance.

If you think it’s no big deal to buy a fake purse, consider where your money may be going. Counterfeit goods not only hurt legitimate businesses, but America’s economy.

“Those profits, by the way, feed all manner of criminal enterprises around the world,” Lord said.

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