Shoppers warned not to buy counterfeit gifts

NORWALK - With the holiday shopping season here, Los Angeles Regional Crime Stoppers is warning consumers about the dangers of buying counterfeit goods such as DVDs, CDs, computers, designer purses, clothing, jewelry and other items.Crime Stoppers, a non-profit organization, has partnered with law enforcement and a number of companies to combat counterfeiting and piracy in Los Angeles County. This anti-counterfeiting initiative increases public awareness, education, and provides communities with the means to anonymously report counterfeiting and piracy. Counterfeiting and piracy crimes are a growing problem in Los Angeles County. As many consumers have found out, counterfeit items are often poor quality, and if they break, there's no return policy from the seller. Black market tobacco products, drugs and pet food also pose health risks to consumers. What consumers may not know is that organized crime, including street gangs, are a major part of the counterfeit merchandise sales market, authorities said. The profits from counterfeit merchandise sales can be higher than drug sales profits and the penalties are much lighter than traditional crimes such as drug dealing. Sales of fake "name brand" items have a huge economic impact statewide. The California State Board of Equalization estimates that fake designer clothes, computers, drugs and other items coming through California's seaports drain about $8 billion each year in tax revenue from state coffers. The illegal funds from sales of counterfeit goods are usually channeled through the "underground economy" of organized crime gangs to fund illegal human, drug and gun smuggling operations. Counterfeit products usually arrive through Southern California ports and are sold by vendors at flea markets, independent shops, swap meets and online. Local street gangs are not the only one's involved in counterfeiting and piracy. International terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Al Qaeda operating in several states, including California, have been linked to selling and distributing counterfeit merchandise to fund terrorism. Over the past three years, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Counterfeiting and Piracy Enforcement Team has seized approximately $320 million worth of knockoff designer products and arrested more than 200 suspected smugglers and counterfeiters. "The bottom line is, if the deal you're being offered seems too good to be true, then you're probably buying a fake and hurting us all in the process," said sheriff's Commander Todd Rogers, who also serves as an advisor to Crime Stoppers. If you know someone, or see someone, involved in making or selling counterfeit goods, please contact your local law enforcement agency or if you prefer to provide information anonymously, you may call "Crime Stoppers" by dialing (800) 222-TIPS (8477). Meanwhile, Crime Stoppers offered the following suggestions for staying safe during the holidays:

Shopping When you're out doing your holiday shopping, use common sense. *Stay alert to your surroundings. If you shop at night, don't go alone. Park in a secure, well-lighted parking lot or parking structure. *Don't leave your purchases in plain view of a thief. Put your packages in the trunk of the car; lock the car doors and trunk. *Be extra-careful if you carry a purse or a wallet. They're the prime target of criminals in crowded shopping areas and mass transit stations.

ATMs and Debit Cards *If you use an ATM to get cash, choose one that's located inside a police station, mall, grocery store, or other well-lighted area. Withdraw only the amount of cash you need. *Shield the ATM keypad from the view of anyone standing near you, so they won't be able to see your PIN number. *Don't throw away your ATM receipt at the ATM location. *Keep the cash in your front pocket. *If your debit card or credit card is lost or stolen, report it immediately to your bank or credit card company.

At Home *Be sure to lock your doors and windows when you leave the house or apartment, even for a few minutes. *If you'll be away from home for an extended time, have a neighbor or family member watch your house and pick up your newspapers and mail.

The event was co-hosted by Caremore.

********** Published: November 22, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 32