Contact 6: Learning how to spot counterfeit merchandise

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CHICAGO (WITI) -- Would you pay less than $50 for an "authentic" sports jersey?  One Contact 6 viewer did, but ended up paying the price.

Through Western Union, he and his friends paid more than $700 for 32 jerseys to a seller in China.  But the jerseys never made it.  They were confiscated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers who knew they were fakes.

"A legitimate jersey could go for $200 to $250 retail. You should probably know if the price is too good. You might wanna take a second look because it's probably not authentic," Senior Import Specialist Dan Bricker said.

This FOX6 viewer is just part of the online shoppers who the Consumer Fraud Center says went off the 'shopping cliff' with $2 billion in counterfeit and fake goods bought this holiday season.

Some of it stopped at the Chicago International Mail Branch. They allowed Contact 6 cameras in for the first time to see exactly how they find the fakes.

“Handbags, knock-off watches, wallets, footwear is a big one, consumer electronics, " Chief Customs and Border Patrol Officer, Brian Henke said.

More than a million pieces of international mail come through here in a month, and officers are trained to look for counterfeits. One of the biggest red flags? Anything coming from China, Singapore or Hong Kong.

While many authentic items are made in China, it's the way they're made that makes a difference.

"Bad stitching, misspellings, a lot of things that would just jump out at you that would tell you hey, this isn't right," Henke said.

Like the Major League Baseball logo, where the baseball comes on a tee and the guy is all nose, or the tags that are more broken English than English. Unless there is a new sport called basebell. Or the lack of quality - like the Coach handbags.

While you might not care because you got a cheap item and no one is going to look too close – beware! Some fakes can hurt you -- like counterfeit airbags  that send out a blast of metal shards at the driver and can explode at anytime.

“This is an air bag that was shipped in. And I don't want to get too close to it because I've heard that sometimes static electricity could make the air bag open up, " Bricker said.

The government has warned that some repair shops might be using them.

Not to mention the problem with counterfeit medications, contact lenses or electronics that could have poor wiring and haven't truly been tested by Underwriters Laboratories.

"We know for a fact that the importation of counterfeit products has been linked to funding of organized crime, drug cartels and other organizations that wish to do us harm," Chief CBP Officer Brian Bell said.

So what you think is a harmless way of looking cool on the cheap  is really a bogus buy.
Officers say next time a knock off looks good remember it's an assault on legitimate companies, good jobs and even your safety.