Manager, IP Policy and Programs, Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC), U.S. Chamber of Commerce
November 17, 2023
The holiday shopping season is already in full swing. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday offering discounts across a variety of must-haves for 2023, shoppers and businesses alike should be alert to the increased risk of counterfeit products that can spoil the festive cheer.
A hefty haul: The global trade of counterfeit goods amount to over $500 billion annually—impacting 325,000 jobs in the U.S. alone. In a record-breaking seizure in 2022, Customs and Border Protection agents in California intercepted a record $1 billion in fake goods, surpassing the entire previous year’s haul of $725.3 million.
Unwanted gifts: Those counterfeit products that evade detection can end up in the hands of unsuspecting consumers. Michigan State University research reveals that nearly 70% of consumers have unknowingly purchased counterfeit items online in the last year. Since 63% of Americans shop online for the holidays, many of those products likely end up under the tree.
A recipe for disaster: Counterfeit products make bad presents for several reasons. They’re typically made with inferior materials and lack the bench-testing other products receive to ensure high quality and, more importantly, safety. Counterfeit versions of popular holiday gifts have been found to contain serious dangers, ranging from undisclosed choking and fire hazards to lead paint and high levels of mercury and arsenic.
Some winter wisdom: What you don’t know can hurt you, so everyone should educate themselves and their loved ones about counterfeiters and how to avoid them. This holiday season, learn to shop smart to stay safe and unbox real happiness.
These five tips are a great place to start:
- Trust your instincts: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. So, if a deal or product seems off, it's best to keep away.
- Prioritize secure payments: When shopping online, only buy from sites that begin with https:// — the 's' stands for secure. Also, check for a lock symbol in your browser to confirm the site's safety.
- Examine every detail: Pay close attention to labels, packaging, and contents. Watch out for out-of-date perishable items, broken or missing safety seals, missing warranty information, or unusual packaging. These could all be signs of fake goods.
- Protect your data: Keep all your devices, including computers and smartphones, updated with the latest cybersecurity protections to fend off any potential cyber threats. Stay alert to suspicious websites that could conceal harmful software.
- Say something: Spread awareness among your friends, family, and coworkers about counterfeit goods. If you encounter a fake good, report it to CBP or the National IPR Center. Your actions can make shopping safer and smarter for all.
Just how big of a problem are counterfeit goods?
- A very big problem: The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reports that international trade in counterfeit and pirated goods amounted to as much as $509 billion in 2016. From 2000 through 2019, seizures of infringing goods by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement increased from 3,244 to 27,599. Globally, it is estimated that counterfeiting has resulted in the loss of more than 2.5 million jobs and more than 60 billion euros in tax revenue losses among the G20 economies.
- The dark side of fake goods: Lost revenue and lost jobs pale in comparison to lost lives. The counterfeit trade shares well-documented ties to domestic and international terrorism, child labor, drug and weapons trading, and other criminal activity. Plus, counterfeit goods themselves carry significant safety hazards. For example, counterfeit backpacks and shoes may contain excessive levels of harmful chemicals; counterfeit electronics may melt, catch fire, or explode; and counterfeit toys may hide undisclosed choking hazards. Worse yet, counterfeit cleaning supplies, medicines, and cosmetics have left victims with debilitating injuries - some fatal.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Resources: