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‘Known to explode': DHS warns Black Friday shoppers of counterfeit products

If that deal is too good to be true, it probably is

best buy black friday

People wait in line to buy televisions as they shop during an early Black Friday sale at a Best Buy on Thanksgiving Day 2018 in Overland Park, Kan.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File

By Valerie Gonzalez
The Monitor, McAllen, Texas

MCALLEN, Texas — Christmas and Black Friday shoppers looking to shower loved ones with luxurious gifts may be wise to avoid criminally good deals underselling brand products like Chanel’s No. 5 with its signature yellow-tinted perfume.

“Results have come back from the lab that it’s been mixed in with urine,” a Homeland Security Investigations spokesperson said Thursday of counterfeit items seized by the agency in the past. “You never know what kind of liquid is actually inside a perfume bottle.”

Greater dangers are posed to the public other than embracing the smell of a men’s bathroom as one’s signature scent.

Counterfeit Beats headphones, a Dyson supersonic hair dryer, Samsung phones, a BaByliss Pro hair straightener, and even an unassuming box containing an “Apple” lightning USB cable were laid out on a table showcasing electronic items the agency has nabbed in South Texas.

“A lot of items have been known to explode,” Maria Michel-Manzo, assistant special agent in charge for HSI in McAllen, said. “They can cause a fire.”

Energy-demanding counterfeited products can use inferior batteries that will overcharge, overheat or explode, HSI said.

Boxes of FreshLook color contacts, which are considered medical devices, Ben Nye makeup, and the fake Chanel No. 5 perfume could potentially pose health hazards, too.

“People put those in their eyes, and that could be damaging for your eyes,” Michel-Manzo said.

Fragrances and makeup manufactured in the FDA’s blindspot could be made out of compliance with federal code and standards and use chemicals that could produce allergic reactions or other harm, the agency warned.

Many consumers working with smaller budgets as they work to recover from pandemic-induced economic hardship may be tempted to take the risk. Michel-Manzo said some will knowingly purchase knock-offs disregarding the effects it will have on the local and global economy.

“What’s the big deal if I’m buying them? You’re buying a stolen product, because they’re stealing the Louis Vuitton name, the Nike name, and that’s taking away from those companies,” Michel-Manzo said.

Companies that pay taxes and employ people are impacted by the counterfeit market, but the money that doesn’t go into the local economy may also end up feeding criminal endeavors.

At the very least, consumers buying from dubious websites, flea markets, or livestreamers on social media platforms may be infuriated to know counterfeit items also have mark-ups.

A “haul” of Chanel products including bracelets, belts, purses and wallets were recently seized in the Rio Grande Valley from a seller who bought some of the items for $6 from a website and was reselling them for $20 to $30, HSI said.

The estimated retail price for the bulk of seized products was estimated at about $120,000.

The seller told agents the products were purchased from a website HSI has now taken down, but shutting down illegitimate online shops is a challenge akin to beheading Medusa. As soon as one is closed down, sellers quickly find another one willing to offer incredible deals.

Part of their success in drawing naive clientele is due to tactics they employ like using photographs from legitimate vendors and copying and pasting them to their fraudulent pages. Other tell-tale signs may be easier to spot but it won’t be until after money has been exchanged.

Slightly perceptible nuances on the label, stitching, fabric quality, stiffness of the leather, or packaging can tip off consumers with sharp eyes and sensitive tactile senses.

HSI doesn’t ask the public to play undercover cop, but they offer some tips and red flags that shouldn’t be ignored by savvy deal-seekers.

— Trust your gut. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

— Only make purchases from websites that start with https.

— Look for lists of authorized vendors to know if the website selling the product is approved.

— Payments should never be made using personal finance applications.

— Check to ensure the seller has a return policy and a working 800-number.

— Read product reviews on websites and research companies you aren’t familiar with.

— Don’t buy expensive items from third party websites.

It may take a couple of extra minutes, but it’s recommended to read product reviews on websites and research companies you aren’t familiar with.

The Better Business Bureau is a trusted source that offers an online search tool where complaints can be looked up for specific companies.

HSI also has a hotline, (866) DHS-2-ICE, where they accept tips and have an online version:

They’re mostly reactionary methods that won’t end with consumers getting their money back, but HSI encourages vigilance and critical thinking before giving up hard-earned cash.

(c)2021 The Monitor (McAllen, Texas)