Federal customs agents yesterday laid out a holiday-shopping sampler of bargain-basement bootleg buys -- including a near-perfect knockoff of a genuine Gronk jersey -- to show how good black-market fakes are getting, and to warn Web shoppers that buying them siphons off billions from legit companies while bankrolling international crime rings.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced yesterday it shut down 132 alleged Web counterfeiting outfits as part of its third annual worldwide holiday-shopping cyber sting. The agency estimates the phony-goods trade costs taxpayers and bona fide companies from $200 billion to $500 billion a year in lost taxes and revenue.
"The bottom line is that criminal organizations are behind this and benefiting from it," said Bruce Foucart, special agent in charge of ICE's Boston office. "We've seen in the past where they've used money like this ... and furthered that with human trafficking for example ... and used that money for drug rings, those type of things."
Foucart's sampling of locally seized phony goods included watches, DVDs, sports hats and jerseys. The Rob Gronkowski throwback jersey, for example, looked on the level at first blush -- right down to the Reebok tag and hologram sticker. But a closer look showed the spacing on the letters was uneven, the stitching was frayed in spots and the red of the jersey bled into the white of the shoulder stripes.
Most of the fakes, he said, are manufactured in the Far East. They clear customs marked as something else, then are sold by stateside syndicates and even mom-and-pop shops that take a cut of the proceeds and send the rest back overseas.
Foucart said shoppers can avoid getting duped by buying directly from licensed dealer's brick-and-mortar stores' websites -- and avoiding over-optimistic Google searches like "half-priced Gronkowski jersey."
"It's buyer beware," he said. "If it doesn't look real -- really, really question it."
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