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From vape pens to airbags, counterfeit holiday gifts flood the market

U.S. Customs seized a billion dollars in fake watches, vape pens, auto parts and even airbags. There are so many knockoffs, sites like Amazon & Ebay can't keep up

ST. LOUIS — Few things feel as good as scoring a great deal on something expensive
Unfortunately, as the saying goes, not all that glitters is gold.

“It's incredible because each year that goes by, the fakes get better. They actually are more and more real looking and feeling,” said John Leonard, Executive Director of Trade and Policy programs with U.S. Customs & Border Patrol.

Leonard said they've seized roughly 26,000 shipments so far this year containing $1.3 billion dollars in fake merchandise. The seized merchandise included the usual knockoff luxury brands, like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Burberry. 

“We seized $25 million worth of counterfeit rolex watches,” said Leonard.

But they also found popular electronics too.

“We actually recently seized in St. Louis 7800 puff bar vapor pens,” said Leonard. “Those would have been worth more than $150,000 if they were legitimate.”

These aren’t the type of knockoffs you buy off the back of a truck. Leonard says you can easily find these fakes for sale on reputable websites.

“Most of the platforms including Amazon have agreements with sellers that they won't sell counterfeit goods and they employ staff to to help police what goes on the site. But just with the sheer volume of stuff, it's really difficult for them to completely eliminate it,” said Leonard. 

He estimated 2 million small packages enter the country everyday from foreign destinations.

Counterfeit merchandise entering the country doesn't just hurt the economy and endanger jobs, Leonard said it could also hurt you or your family.

“Many other goods electronic goods can have issues with batteries going crazy and and causing harm,” said Leonard. “Customs and border protection has seized over the past few years, quite a number of counterfeit airbags. So instead of, you know, deploying and protecting a driver. The airbag explodes and can actually cause serious injury or death.”

If you want to know if something you bought is a fake, Leonard says customs and border patrol agents can help. They receive specialized training from luxury brands on how to spot knockoffs. You can contact them with questions at 1-877-227-5511.

To report a buyer or business you suspect of selling counterfeit items, click here.