Days before the Super Bowl, ICE seizes large cache of fake National Football League gear. (Jan. 31)
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials process more than 278 million cargo and parcel shipments from abroad each year. While the majority of these are legal goods, a small percentage contains counterfeit items. The agency seized and destroyed 34,143 shipments containing counterfeit goods in the 2017 fiscal year, the most recent year with available data.
The CBP seized 8.2% more shipments of counterfeit goods in 2017 compared with the previous year, when the agency seized 31,560 shipments. The value of the knockoffs taken, however, was considerably less, dropping to $1.21 billion in 2017 from $1.38 billion the year before. Most counterfeit items are seized while entering the United States come from Asia. Some 78% of seized counterfeit items came from China or Hong Kong in fiscal 2017. This is only where the goods were shipped from, not necessarily where they were made.
Products that are counterfeited are almost all luxury goods such as watches, jewelry, electronics, and accessories. According to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Nike, one of the world’s most valuable labels, is the most faked brand. Other prestigious brands counterfeiters target include Rolex and designer Louis Vuitton. Pharmaceuticals also are among the most counterfeited items. They can contain an incorrect dosage or even lack the active ingredient that makes the genuine drug effective.
Fake Apple products: Here’s how to avoid being fooled – and endangered – by counterfeits
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In order to determine America’s most counterfeited items, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. Items were ranked based on the number of total seizures made in fiscal year 2017. Market values also came from CBP, which determined the value of the counterfeit goods based on the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of the genuine goods.
> FY 2017 seizures: 449
> Pct. of total seizures: 1.3%
> Value of seized goods: $12,128,156
During the 2016 fiscal year, there were so few seizures of counterfeit toys that U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not even list it as its own category. Had those toys been authentic, they would have been worth over $12 million, according to CBP officials.
> FY 2017 seizures: 454
> Pct. of total seizures: 1.3%
> Value of seized goods: N/A
Computers are an integral part of the modern world, and counterfeiters have attempted to smuggle millions of dollars worth of computers and accessories into the United States. In one case, a California man tried to import fake computers, which would have been worth $2.6 million if genuine. He was sentenced to more than three years in prison. Hundreds of additional shipments of counterfeit computers were seized by CBP in the 2017 fiscal year.
8. Optical media
> FY 2017 seizures: 809
> Pct. of total seizures: 2.4%
> Value of seized goods: $27,573,775
The number of seizures of counterfeit optical media has dropped steadily over the past few years. The CBP seized 809 shipments of falsified items like DVDs, Blu-Rays, and video games in fiscal year 2017. The year before, there were 963 seized shipments. In 2015, there were 1,442 seizures. The items taken in these seizures in 2017 would have been worth over $27 million if genuine.
7. Pharmaceuticals/personal care
> FY 2017 seizures: 2,209
> Pct. of total seizures: 6.5%
> Value of seized goods: $69,758,720
While many of the fake goods smuggled into the United States are relatively harmless luxury items like fashion accessories or entertainment, counterfeit pharmaceuticals can be dangerous. Inauthentic drugs that are not as effective as genuine medicine – or are completely ineffective – can risk the health of those who take them. Some counterfeit drugs may not have the correct dosage or altogether lack the active ingredient that makes genuine medicine effective. CBP seized 2,209 shipments of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and personal care items worth an average of $31,579 per shipment. Pharmaceuticals and other personal care items, such as cosmetics, toothpaste, or shampoo, made up 6.5% of the seized counterfeit items in fiscal year 2017.
> FY 2017 seizures: 3,266
> Pct. of total seizures: 9.6%
> Value of seized goods: $234,451,926
Counterfeit handbags and wallets accounted for less than 10% of CBP seizures in 2017, yet the items seized would have been worth over $234 million if genuine – nearly one-fifth of the total value of all seized goods that year. Fake luxury goods like purses are often made overseas to replicate high-end and designer products at a lower price. Yet these items often use lower-grade materials and lack the durability and quality of genuine products. CBP seized 3,266 shipments of counterfeit handbags and wallets in fiscal year 2017, a slight uptick from 2016 when 3,184 such shipments were intercepted.
5. Consumer products
> FY 2017 seizures: 3,912
> Pct. of total seizures: 11.5%
> Value of seized goods: $46,265,355
Consumer products is a new category of seized counterfeit items. It includes drinking glasses, electronics accessories, and light fixtures. Because many of the items in this category would have replaced relatively inexpensive items even when genuine, consumer products accounted for less than 4% of the total value of seized items, or just over $46 million.
4. Consumer electronics
> FY 2017 seizures: 4,137
> Pct. of total seizures: 12.1%
> Value of seized goods: $85,115,639
Consumer electronics are essentially any electronic device intended for personal or home use, including phones and TVs, kitchen appliances, or grooming products. Many American homes have several such products, so consumer electronics is a big market for counterfeiters. Officials reported 4,137 seizures of counterfeit consumer electronics in 2017. More than 1,300 of those seizures came during a joint operation between CBP and the General Administration of China Customs. In total, counterfeit consumer electronics seized in 2017 would have been worth more than $85 million if genuine.
> FY 2017 seizures: 4,224
> Pct. of total seizures: 12.3%
> Value of seized goods: $41,490,429
Each year since 2014 there have been hundreds more seizures of counterfeit footwear. In 2014, CBP seized less than 1,300 intercepted shipments of bogus shoes. That number increased to 2,818 the next year, to 3,630 the year after, and to 4,224 in 2017. Those shipments would have been worth nearly $41.5 million if they were authentic. Though there were close to 600 additional seizures of counterfeit shoes in 2017 compared with the year before, the 2016 estimated manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of the counterfeit shoes was nearly $10 million higher.
> FY 2017 seizures: 4,297
> Pct. of total seizures: 12.6%
> Value of seized goods: $460,162,145
Counterfeit watches and jewelry were not the most commonly seized type of item in 2017, but they had the highest market value. CBP reported 4,297 seizures of phony watches and jewelry that if authentic would have been worth over $460 million – over 38% of the total value of counterfeit items seized. Each intercepted shipment was worth an average of $107,089. Compared to 2016, watch and jewelry seizures increased by more than any other category. CBP intercepted 3,407 fake watch and jewelry shipments in 2016, 890 fewer than in 2017. Unlike many commonly counterfeited items, watches, rings, and other jewelry are relatively small yet quite expensive. This allows counterfeiters to maximize the value of goods smuggled in each shipment.
1. Wearing apparel/accessories
> FY 2017 seizures: 5,223
> Pct. of total seizures: 15.3%
> Value of seized goods: $74,880,617
Wearing apparel and accessories again topped the list of America’s most counterfeited items. CBP seized 5,223 shipments of counterfeit clothes, accounting for over 15% of all seized shipments. In the past seven years, wearing apparel and accessories has been the most seized category. In 2013, seizures peaked when CBP seized 9,894 shipments of fake clothing and accessories. The number of intercepted shipments declined in 2017 from 6,406 the year before, by far the largest drop of any category. The Super Bowl is one of the main targets for counterfeiters. Operation Team Player, an effort to curb counterfeit sports items, recovered a reported 24,324 items worth over $1 million just before the big game.
24/7 Wall Street is a USA TODAY content partner offering financial news and commentary. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.
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