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ICE, CBP target counterfeit goods shipments

Los Angeles
International Airport

During the week of Dec. 10, ICE and CBP surged customs enforcement agents into key west coast cargo shipping and mail centers in a stepped-up enforcement actions against shipments of counterfeit goods.

In San Francisco, federal authorities at a Bay Area mail processing facility interdicted more than 300 parcels containing suspected counterfeit goods in the enforcement action dubbed “Operation Holiday Hoax,” an international effort targeting the sale and importation of counterfeit and pirated products.

At the same time, federal authorities at a Los Angeles International Airport express cargo consignment facility interdicted more than a hundred shipments containing suspected counterfeit goods.

This is the third year Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Coordination Center in Virginia has conducted “Operation Holiday Hoax.” The program, said ICE on Dec. 14, runs from Nov. 26 to Dec. 26. During that time, federal and local law enforcement officers will seize products such as perfume, holiday lights, electronics, clothing and DVD's. As in years past, most of these items are ordered online as part of the holiday shopping season.

The enforcement surge, conducted by officers and import specialists from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and special agents from ICE HSI, resulted in the interdiction of a wide variety of suspected counterfeit merchandise, including headphones, sports jerseys and cell phone accessories. Once it is determined that the items are counterfeit, CBP will seize the merchandise.

CBP and HSI representatives say many of the intercepted items were likely destined for to crooked vendors for resale. HSI said it would conduct follow-up investigations to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute those cases. However, authorities noted that at least some of the parcels were being shipped directly to consumers, many whom may not have realized they were buying counterfeits.

"We're endeavoring to protect not only the companies that make copyrighted products, but also unwitting buyers who get fleeced by these fakes," said Clark Settles, special agent in charge for HSI San Francisco. "Consumers order merchandise online believing they're getting the genuine article, only to receive a shoddy and sometimes dangerous counterfeit version."

Officials with CBP said counterfeit goods are coming into the U.S. in smaller parcels through the mail, as opposed to shipping containers arriving at the nation's seaports. The trend, which authorities attribute in part to increased sales traffic over the Internet, has resulted in a heightened emphasis on screenings at major air cargo facilities, including this week's operation in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

"One of CBP's missions is securing legitimate trade and enforcing U.S. trade laws," said Brian Humphrey, CBP director of Field Operations San Francisco. "As the first line of defense, we are intercepting these potentially illegal and dangerous goods at the first point of entry into the U.S. before they can be resold or distributed."

Last year's Operation Holiday Hoax, said ICE, led to the seizure of more than 327,000 counterfeit and pirated items nationwide with an estimated valued, based upon the manufacturer's suggested retail price, of nearly $77 million. In 2009 the operation netted more than $26 million worth of seized goods.