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Those watches, handbags and sunglasses might look awfully alluring when laid out on a New York City street corner — but the feds want holiday shoppers to keep walking.
That was the message they hammered home Tuesday as federal authorities warned people not to shell out their hard-earned dollars for fraudulent goods — whose very existence poses a shadowy threat to the country, they said.
“Today we’re here to warn the public again with an old saying that will stand the test of time: If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is,” Marina Vides, assistant special agent-in-charge of Homeland Security Investigations, said from the cargo facility at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens.
Aside from their inherent faultiness — which unveils itself through fire-prone, spyware-infested electronics or lead-laden toys from China, among other things — the proceeds from the sales of the illicit goods can also fund terrorist groups overseas, the feds said.
“At a time when we’re dealing with a crisis in the Middle East, we know terrorist organizations use counterfeit goods to fund their terrorist attacks,” Francis J. Russo, head of the US Customs and Border Patrol’s New York office, said during the news conference.
“So this year, as always, we remind the public that the bitterness of poor quality lasts much longer than the happiness of paying the [lower] price,” Russo continued.
“Make sure that you are not an accomplice to these transnational criminal organizations.”
To illustrate their point, authorities arranged on four folding tables a cornucopia of tempting-but-illicit goods New Yorkers might stumble across — including fake iPhones, bogus Rolexes, shoddy shoes, Legos, expensive Mac makeup, Burberry sunglasses, Chanel handbags, Gucci phone cases, baseball hats and even a knockoff Oscar statue.
It would be nearly impossible for the untrained eye to tell the fake pieces from the genuine articles — especially because they’re often packaged in brand-appropriate boxes bearing some of the most popular logos in the world.
But the luxurious-seeming items — many of which were seized by customs agents in JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports — are no more real than that van Gogh hanging in your friend’s living room.
And although many view buying a knockoff Gucci bag as a victimless crime, the feds said that’s not the case.
Often, they’re dangerous to the consumer — agents described surge protectors with junk wiring that could cause fires, Legos painted with lead and iPhones that turn on but don’t function.
“We have seen countless faulty electronics, cosmetics with unknown additives, toys with unregulated materials and dangerous levels of lead, and counterfeit bicycle helmets that does not have the necessary safety protections,” said Vides.
Of course, it’s a big-money business for the thieves, many of whom are importing knockoffs from China, Hong Kong, Turkey, India and the Philippines.
US Customs agents seize about 25 million counterfeit good each year that are worth about $2.3 billion, authorities said.
The New York metropolitan-area is a known target for these criminals: More than 30% of the fake goods seized came through JFK or LaGuardia, Russo said.
That kind of monetary loss can severely wound the nation’s economy as criminal organizations look to rob, replicate and replace US goods, he added.
“By engaging in counterfeit goods, these entities are looking to really hurt the US economy by lowering wages and leading to higher unemployment rates,” Russo said.
“Make no mistake about it: They are truly a danger to the country.”