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Q&A: Counterfeits Spoil Gift-Giving

December 23, 2016
Senator Chuck Grassley , Traer Star-Clipper

Q: Are counterfeit goods a bigger risk during the holiday gift season?

A: Americans work hard for their money and look for ways to stretch their dollars, especially when household expenses go up during the season of gift giving. Savvy shoppers scour sales racks and online flash sales to score decent savings and good deals to get the best value for their money. However, consumers always need to be mindful of dangerous counterfeit items and knock-off goods that make their way into mainstream commerce and online shopping, from luxury brands to basement bargains. Around the holiday season, the generosity of Americans is undermined by cheap knock-offs that rip off consumers and creators and pose health and safety hazards, as well. The trafficking of counterfeit goods and online piracy undermines the integrity of free markets, trade and innovation. As people tighten their belts and carefully watch their spending, it's important to raise awareness about the danger of deals that are too good to be true. Bad deals and bad bargains are bad for the economy and bad for consumer safety. For example, counterfeit electronics and fake accessories may risk overheating, counterfeit cosmetics and beauty supplies may contain hazardous chemicals, counterfeit auto supplies, sport and safety gear may not provide the protection consumers expect and counterfeit food and pharmaceuticals could be lethal. Consider the prevalence of batteries and chargers used to power up technology products. A recent Underwriters Laboratories test found that 99 percent of counterfeit iPhone chargers did not meet its safety standards or provide adequate power or electrical shielding. These counterfeit items present a risk to user safety and may damage other consumer goods, including the devices being powered. The bottom line is clear. Counterfeiters pad their profits at the expense of consumer and product safety.

Q: What do consumers need to know?

A: The number one tip is buyer awareness. Word-of-mouth is one way bad products are weeded out from good ones. As for where to spend your dollars in the first place, trust, but verify. Check to make sure the website offers a customer service phone number and the products ship from within the United States. A URL that begins with "https" indicates a secure connection. At check-out, if the system reroutes to an external online payment system, follow instincts before sharing financial and personal information. Similarly, do not respond to requests to verify your password or credit card information unless you initiated the contact. If prices are marked far below standard market rates, that's another red flag for counterfeit merchandise. If the packaging seems low quality with misspellings and doesn't include a legitimate safety certification from Underwriters Laboratories or another independent safety organization, use good judgment before buying or using the product. Many products include security measures, such as holograms, to make it easier for consumers to identify authentic items. Upon using a product, watch for batteries that don't fit properly or overheat during use. In 2015, federal authorities seized merchandise valued at more than $1.3 billion for violations of intellectual property rights. What's more, some 15,000 illegal websites have been seized and 48,000 fake e-commerce links have been shut down by federal law enforcement authorities and partners from 27 countries around the world. While the U.S. and our trading partners must keep working together to curb counterfeiting, U.S. consumers are encouraged to beware of the risk.

Contact the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center for more tips and to report potential violations at http://www.iprcenter. gov.Consumers also may learn more at the National Crime Prevention Council at topics/intellectual-property-theft/fake-consumer-goods-1 or report suspicious counterfeits to the FBI at



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