Feds warn buyers to beware of counterfeit products
Ricardo J. Copeland slipped into a deep depression after seeing the movie “Straight Outta Compton,” the biopic about rap group N.W.A.
“I looked around the movie theater and everyone was wearing my shirt,” said Copeland, 44, original designer of the “Straight Outta Detroit” brand. “I literally wanted to go to each individual person and ask them to take it off. I was devastated.”
Copeland’s design is one example of the many counterfeit goods popping up all over the Metro Detroit area.
Just in time for Black Friday and holiday shopping, U.S. Customs and Border Protection are enforcing stricter laws to protect buyers from purchasing fake goods.
In the past, consumers had to look out for fake clothing and purses, but now counterfeit makeup, cellphones and headphones are increasing in popularity.
“A lot of times, people will buy items for a fraction of the cost instead of purchasing it from a retailer because it looks “real,” said Marlon V. Miller, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations. “Sometimes these items will have certificates of authenticity or official labels.”
In 2014, the CBP and Homeland Security seized thousands of items nationwide, with an estimated value of $1.2 billion. In Michigan, $27 million in counterfeit items were seized. Goods from China accounted for 63 percent of all seizures.
While some products are hard to tell apart, Marty Raybon, assistant director for Border Security, said there are subtle differences that can help shoppers decide which items are real.
“The stitching is usually different. If it looks sloppy or has small imperfections, it’s probably fake,” Raybon said. “Also, if you are purchasing something from a gas station or from a kiosk off of the street, most likely it’s fake.”
Copeland’s products have a trademark emblem on the bottom left side, but it didn’t stop people from making copies.
“If it doesn’t have the trademark or if it wasn’t purchased at The Detroit Store in the Penobscot Building, it’s a knockoff,” said Copeland, who trademarked “Straight Outta Detroit” in 2013. “I have lost thousands of dollars because of counterfeiters.”
Online shoppers are most at risk because goods can be bought in advance. Imitation cosmetics and designer headphones are more difficult to spot.
“Many of the counterfeit MAC products and perfume that we have seized contained carcinogens which can cause health hazards,” Miller said. “We have had cases where Beats by Dre headphones have caught on fire. If you are buying something that’s not regulated, you don’t know what you are getting.”
Officials say if an individual is still unable to tell if a product is fake or not, check the country of origin.
“If you know that a product is made in Italy, but it says Made in China, use discretion,” Raybon said. “If the price is too good to be true, in most cases it is.”
The Detroit Store, 645 Griswold, Detroit, MI 48226