Experts warn counterfeit items may pose health and security concerns

Feds issue warning after $3.3B in counterfeit items seized in 2021
Published: Dec. 21, 2022 at 12:34 PM EST
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InvestigateTV - Handbags, cellphones and even medicine were all part of the $3.3 billion worth of items seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in 2021. The CBP, which manages 328 ports of entry across the United States where they monitor imports and exports, also issued warnings against counterfeit items saying they pose legal, economic, and health risks to consumers. Alaina Van Horn with the CBP said counterfeit items are a big concern: the CBP made over 27,000 seizures in 2021 alone, totaling $3.3B in impounded goods.

Much of the contraband was counterfeit: everything from cellphones to jewelry and even toothpaste. Topping the list of seized items was “wearing apparel” (clothing) and handbags and wallets.

Van Horn said the counterfeit item’s journey usually begins with an online purchase.

“It is a huge problem, because even sales that occur in an online environment it’s a physical good that very likely has to cross the border into the United States,” she explained.

Consumer experts like Josh Planos with the Better Business Bureau said the impact of purchasing a counterfeit item can stretch far beyond your wallet: it can also harm your health.

In the CBP’s report they identified counterfeit mobile phones as a significant health and safety risk.

The report said the electronics may contain levels of chemicals such as lead and cadmium that often exceed established safety standards. In some cases, the values were 35 to 40 times higher than globally accepted limits for lead.

Along with hurting legitimate companies and potentially impacting your health, CBP officials reported that counterfeit tech could be smuggling a severe security threat.

Numerous studies, like this one from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), have found surveillance technology and malware in a lot of consumer electronics products. That brings a huge concern for identity theft, financial theft, and tracking technology.

Van Horn added that efforts have been made to make unknown surveillance a more serious crime, but it is tough to bring the international players behind it to justice.

You can report counterfeit items and other trade allegations to the CPB.