When searching for counterfeit goods from abroad, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers say the devil is in the details.
Take the silver-and-black Oakland Raiders hat officers found in a recent shipment carried to Los Angeles by a major global delivery company. It looked sharp - except for one fairly major flaw: A sticker on the cap suggested the Raiders played basketball, not football.
"They probably ran out of NFL holograms and placed an NBA hologram on an NFL hat," said Jorge Garcia, deputy director for trade at the CBP's Los Angeles field office.
Homeland Security officials showed off their loot Friday from a recent three-day Operation Holiday Hoax program held at shipping warehouses near Los Angeles International Airport. Most of the fake goods had arrived from China in small boxed shipments and were on their way to flea markets and to consumers, some of whom had probably bought the goods on the Internet knowing they were priced cheaply, officers said.
Among the items recovered were faux Kobe Bryant Lakers' jerseys, iPhone cases, Burberry scarves and Louis Vuitton purses. (Despite the elaborate name of the holiday-themed operation, officials say they intercept counterfeit goods at warehouses near the airport daily.
Customs officers say they look for common signs in searching for fakes, most of which look like the real thing but have some flaw. Is the stitching off? Are the letters on the back of a sports jersey too close together? Do the headphones simply not feel right? (Beats by Dr. Dre headphones are an especially popular item for counterfeiters now, officials said.)
"The quality quite often will give it away," said Todd Hoffman, area port director for Customs and Border Protection at LAX. "When you have a product coming from China and it says, `Made in the USA,' that's a dead giveaway."
Officers try to intercept most of the goods before they reach markets but acknowledged they don't catch everything.
"Obviously, customers should be aware," Hoffman said. "If something is too good to be true, it probably is."
Most of the goods found by customs officers will eventually be destroyed, officials said.
Meanwhile, officials with the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations unit always try to find the source of the goods, Special Agent in Charge Claude Arnold said.
Because many of the goods are sent in small batches from individuals in China to the United States, it can be difficult for investigators to pinpoint exactly who shipped the materials, Arnold said. But investigators try to track down information about the supply chain that is moving the goods, he said.
Sometimes, investigators are able to track the company or person who imported the goods to the United States. Other times, Arnold said, the large multinational companies whose goods are being knocked off can help Chinese and American authorities find the source of the counterfeit goods.
"With a lot of the legitimate producers, a lot of them are in China," Arnold said. "They can leverage their influence in that regard to get the Chinese to go after the plants that make the counterfeit goods.
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