holiday shopping

Government Warns Shoppers of Rise in Counterfeit Retailers During Holiday Shopping Season

Officials have seen an increase of counterfeit goods being sold directly to customers as well as a rise in the use of the dark web.

As America’s major shopping season shifts into gear with Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, the Department of Homeland Security is warning shoppers to not get “fleeced by fakes” and avoid online scammers.

The department confiscated more than $500 million worth of counterfeit goods in the past year, ABC News reported. Investigators pointed to two recent stings that involved a website illegally selling counterfeit New York Jets jerseys and another retailer offering “free shipping all over the world” for baby carriers. The agency took down both sites after they were flagged by users.

Scammers often use extreme discounts and giveaways to entice customers to visit their sites, leading customers to purchase counterfeit clothing and other materials without knowing the source.

“We’re seeing a tremendous influx of counterfeit goods going directly to consumers,” Steve Francis, assistant director of the DHS Global Trade Investigations Division, told ABC News. He added that the agency has seen an increase in the use of the “dark web” to sell illicit goods as well as the use of online currencies like bitcoin.

Criminals know that they are unlikely to be prosecuted for their crimes because of the incredibly large amount of online retailers, Francis said.

“The risk of being arrested and prosecuted is low but the profit is extraordinary,” Francis said.

Customers looking to reduce the risk of being scammed by retailers selling illegal or counterfeit goods should make sure to keep their receipts and check to see if they were overcharged for a product purchased online. In addition, experts warned Americans to look out for people trying to use publicly available information (including social media profiles, addresses and names) to hack online orders and access their bank accounts.

On Twitter, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told consumers: “If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.”

Shoppers should also avoid websites that have unusual addresses or lack contact information for the seller. Another red flag, the agency said, is websites that offer different designs or models than those that are sold by major online retailers.

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