LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Online shopping exploded during the pandemic. Federal officials say there's so much money to be made, however, organized crime is getting involved.
13 Action News was recently given exclusive access inside a secure facility to see how officers are stopping criminals from selling their goods to Nevadans and shoppers across the U.S.
INCREASE IN COUNTERFEIT
"Every year we continue to see an increase in counterfeit merchandise," said section chief Laura Tapia of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. "In the last year, we saw a 700 percent increase of counterfeit merchandise entering the United States."
Tapia said before someone tries sneaking something into Nevada or anywhere else, many fake goods start their journey at the Los Angeles-Long Beach seaport.
"About 80 percent of the cargo that is arriving comes from Southeast Asia," Tapia said. "We are at the gateway to the Pacific Rim."
From here, her officers search the cargo inside an undisclosed facility. 13 Action News was granted a rare glimpse inside.
"Once the containers arrive at this facility," says officer Angel Villagrana. "100 percent of the merchandise is examined."
SPOT FAKE GOODS
Villagrana said his staff is constantly working with business experts to help them spot fake goods.
"We're training with the trademark holders and our import specialists as well," Villagrana said. "We collect samples, we send photos to them and we help each other out."
Homeland Security said counterfeit goods pose a significant health and safety risk, as well as impact the economic growth of legitimate businesses. However, Tapia said that's not all.
"A lot of it is funding criminal organizations," Tapia said. "The individual who are carrying a fake Louis Vuitton or wearing fake tennis shoes probably are not really thinking about contributing to criminal activity."
Tapia said crooks are making millions.
"If there is profit to be made, most likely someone is going to counterfeit it," Tapia said.
A good example are these are Nike Jordans.
"We have had instances where a product hasn't even met the market yet," Tapia said. "But we're seeing the product, the counterfeit merchandise coming into the U.S."
In fact, there's so much merchandise coming into U.S. ports, crooks aren't even worried about trying to hide their fake goods.
"Counterfeiters are more comfortable just throwing them in a box and commingling it with a legitimate shipment," Tapia said.
Persistence does pay off. In one recent bust, officers seized more than 47,000 counterfeit Cialis pills and 10,000 pieces of fake designer merchandise. If sold, it would have had the potential to bring in nearly 13 million dollars. Tapia admits, the bad guys are getting good at what they do.
"These here were counterfeit Viagra," Tapia said. "Pfizer is the manufacturer. So they have the Pfizer brand and also the diamond shaped blue pill is a protected trademark."
Tapia said it's the sophisticated details that go into making so much of this fake stuff that keeps officers on their toes.
"The hardest is just evolving, moving with the trends, knowing what is current," Tapia said. "Most of our officers are very good at paying attention to what is current."