Heading into the holiday shopping season, everyone is looking for a good deal. But Los Angeles city leaders are warning consumers that counterfeit handbags and watches are hurting the U.S. economy. They look like the real thing, but officials are cracking down this holiday season on counterfeit goods, and say they are costing Americans jobs.
The LAPD Vice Division says counterfeit goods are actually more lucrative than drugs.
At first glance, it looks like tens of thousands of dollars in high-end merchandise -- but it's all junk. Items recently seized are evidence in the fight against counterfeiters.
"Counterfeit goods, as we all know, victimize the consumer," said L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer. "They victimize our business community. They cost jobs and they jeopardize public safety."
At a Monday press conference, city leaders and law enforcement personnel warned consumers of the negative impact of bogus items like designer handbags, shoes, purses and luxury goods.
The black market is also very lucrative for pirated CDs and DVDs, even pharmaceuticals, razor blades and much more.
Often you can't tell the difference. Counterfeiters have become very sophisticated. The FBI says most of the fake items come from China.
According to the World Customs Organization, counterfeit goods account for nearly 10 percent of all worldwide trade, about $500 billion annually; $250 billion in the U.S. alone, along with 750,000 jobs lost.
"Buying out of a trunk of a car almost certainly guarantees that the material that you get will not be the quality that you expect. So get the real thing," said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. "Invest in America. Invest in your city. Pay attention to what you're buying. Be a smart consumer and don't be fooled."
This holiday season, consumers should beware of the price: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Also, consider the location where you're buying the merchandise, and the packaging. Often counterfeiters make mistakes.
"We're coming upon the season of giving, and it's the choice of whether they're going to be Santa Claus or Scrooge," said Ruben Gonzalez, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce vice president of public policy and political affairs. "And every consumer makes that choice on a daily basis."
Last week the city attorney's office filed five new cases. They say two of them resulted in guilty pleas. An FBI official told Eyewitness News one of the big problems is that the criminal punishment isn't severe enough, in his eyes. He said first-time offenders often get one year in jail, sometimes less.