(WAFB) - It's the season to get great prices on hot gift items, but U.S. Homeland Security agents warn it's also a popular time for counterfeiters, and the items they sell could come with some hidden dangers.
Thomas Byrd, who handles public affairs for the U.S. Homeland Security New Orleans Field Office, showed 9News several items that were once for sale in stores or online. Everything from makeup to Air Jordans, NFL jerseys, and even gaming systems were packaged in evidence-type bags. Bryd says the products are fake.
"Last year, we shut down over 15,000 websites that were selling counterfeit items," Byrd said.
Byrd says popular retail websites like eBay and Amazon are hotbeds for knockoffs. He says one thing to look for is a toll-free number to the seller. Byrd says if you can't find it, the site is probably selling counterfeit items. But he saiys in the south, flea markets and pop up stores are also popular targets for counterfeiters.
"Any major sporting event we have in New Orleans, that's where we end up getting the jerseys from, because people will come out and want to sell counterfeit jerseys and shirts and all that stuff," Byrd said.
Counterfeit items go beyond cosmetics and handbags these days. Even smaller items, like batteries, could be knockoffs. He says items that are not certified could be potential fire hazards. "If they are not made properly, they can end up exploding when they are being used in a smoke alarm," Byrd said.
Same holds true, he says, for entertainment gaming systems. "This one we know is counterfeited because it just says 'Entertainment System' on it. It doesn't say 'Nintendo Entertainment System,'" Byrd said.
Byrd says it's all fun and games until the consumer unexpectedly finds a frayed or exposed wire. Such was the case, he says, last Christmas with hover boards. "It's not check by UL [Underwriters Laboratories] to find out whether the electronic components are stable, so you can plug it in and it can catch on fire and burn your house down," Byrd said.
Byrd says consumers typically don't face charges if they're caught carrying a knockoff, but your item will be confiscated and destroyed, and the purchasers most likely won't get their money back.
Byrd says it's also important to note that oftentimes, counterfeit items are sold by criminal organizations that support drug rings or human trafficking.