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Officials warn buyers to avoid fake merchandise

Published Nov. 23, 2012

TAMPA — The purse's "leather" is plastic, the stitching poor. The DVDs have hand-written titles. Who knows what's in the perfume?

Counterfeit items are sold daily, costing the U.S. economy at least $200 billion a year, according to the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition. As the nation's busiest shopping season begins, federal authorities are warning Tampa Bay area residents to look out for deals that seem too good to be true.

Flea markets, convenience stores, websites — even boutiques — sometimes sell fakes, said Fred Butler, who leads the region's U.S. Department of Homeland Security fraud investigations.

Investigators confiscate counterfeit items and help prosecute the distributors. They also shut down websites selling fake goods.

But they want to stop people from buying them. To avoid being duped by fakes, Butler offers a few tips:

• Check the stitching. Off-kilter stitches and loose threads on purses and clothing tags point to fakes.

• Look for perfume boxes that are wrapped in plastic. Easy-to-open boxes in poor condition are usually frauds.

• Read the tags. Poor spelling and grammar are also red flags.

To those who knowingly buy counterfeit goods to save money, authorities offer a plea:

"It's not providing jobs here," Butler said. "It hurts the U.S. economy."

Counterfeit goods also have been linked to terrorist groups, who use sales proceeds as funding, and drug dealers who launder money through these businesses, federal reports show.

Also, fake circuit breakers, Christmas lights and perfumes can be dangerous, said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell.

Butler says he's heard of counterfeit product makers adding urine to perfume and powder cement to talcum powder.

"It could become a health concern," Cutrell said. Fake drugs and car parts have killed.

But a fake Coach purse, Gucci bag or ripped-off movie? Poor quality, but not deadly.

"Your DVD might not work halfway through the movie," Butler said. "Then, it wasn't even worth your $2."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

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