LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Online shopping has exploded during the pandemic. Federal officials say there is so much money to be made, however, organized crime is getting involved.
13 Action News recently gained exclusive access inside a secure facility to see how officers stop criminals from selling their wares to Nevada residents and shoppers across the United States.
INCREASE IN COUNTERFEITING
“Each year we continue to see an increase in counterfeit goods,” said Laura Tapia, section chief of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Last year we saw a 700% increase in counterfeit goods entering the United States.”
Tapia said that before anyone tries to sneak anything into Nevada or anywhere else, many counterfeit products begin their journey at the Los Angeles-Long Beach seaport.
“About 80% of the cargo that comes in comes from Southeast Asia,” Tapia said. “We are at the gates of the Pacific Rim.”
From there, his agents search the cargo inside an undisclosed facility. 13 Action News got a rare glimpse inside.
“Once the containers arrive at this facility,” says agent Angel Villagrana. “100% of the goods are examined.”
Villagrana said his staff constantly work with trade experts to help them spot counterfeit products.
“We also train with trademark owners and our import specialists,” Villagrana said. “We collect samples, we send them photos and we help each other.”
Homeland Security said counterfeit products pose a significant health and safety risk, as well as an impact on the economic growth of legitimate businesses. However, Tapia said that’s not all.
“A lot of it funds criminal organizations,” Tapia said. “The individual who wears a fake Louis Vuitton or wears fake tennis shoes is probably not really thinking of contributing to criminal activity.”
Tapia said the scammers make millions.
“If there’s a profit to be made, it’s highly likely that someone will counterfeit it,” Tapia said.
A good example are these are Nike Jordans.
“We’ve had cases where a product hasn’t even reached the market yet,” Tapia said. “But we see the product, the counterfeit merchandise entering the United States”
In fact, there’s so much merchandise arriving at US ports that scammers don’t even mind trying to hide their counterfeits.
“Counterfeiters are more comfortable throwing it in a box and mixing it up with a legitimate shipment,” Tapia said.
Perseverance pays. In a recent arrest, officers seized over 47,000 counterfeit Cialis pills and 10,000 counterfeit coins. If sold, it would have had the potential to fetch nearly $13 million. Tapia admits that bad guys get good at what they do.
“Those were counterfeit Viagra,” Tapia said. “Pfizer is the manufacturer. So they have the Pfizer brand and the blue diamond-shaped pill is trademark protected.”
Tapia said it’s the sophisticated details that go into the making of this fake stuff that keeps officers on their toes.
“The hardest thing is just to evolve, to follow the trends, to know what’s current,” Tapia said. “Most of our officers are very good at paying attention to what’s going on.”