Knockoffs Could Be Dangerous

Every year, the U.S. economy loses $250 billion to counterfeit products.

But more frightening, you could lose your life to them, because many of the things being counterfeited today are downright dangerous.

Government agents seized more than twice as much counterfeit merchandise last year as they did the year before.

The vast majority of it comes from China. But what's really scary is where it goes.

These days, dangerous counterfeit goods are showing up in some legitimate stores.

It's not just about fake purses and sunglasses anymore.

"We're talking about consumer health and beauty products like perfume, razor blades and toothbrushes that can be contaminated," said Caroline Joiner of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Counterfeit medications are one of the biggest categories of all and cost drug companies $32 billion in losses every year.

Kevin Fagan's son, Tim, was prescribed a critical medication after a liver transplant. Every time he took it, Tim cried out in pain. After two months, the Fagans found out the drug they had purchased at the pharmacy was fraudulent.

"What happened to my son was unconscionable," Fagan said. "My son was just racked in extreme body cramps throughout his whole body. His arms, his legs, his entire body was just racked in pain and my wife and I were absolutely frantic with worry."

A Growing Problem

In Cook County, Ill., the sheriff's department came across 600 bottles of counterfeit Head and Shoulders shampoo containing a harmful bacteria linked to feces.

Another Cook County bust snagged nearly 60,000 phony Duracell batteries made with mercury, a toxin the real battery maker stopped using years ago.

"It's pervasive and dangerous. Every product in every industry is vulnerable," Joiner said.

Underwriters Laboratories tested knockoff extension cords and power strips and found they could burst into flames or cause shocks. What's worse, they were fraudulently stamped with Underwriters' own seal of approval, making them seem safe.

"Some parties will use those marks and give you substandard product and often times they can be dangerous," said Daniel Baldwin, assistant commissioner of the Office of International Trade at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have conducted 14,000 seizures this year, including a shipment of light bulbs worth $45,000.

Automotive counterfeits are also common.

Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems makes the brakes used on virtually every truck, fire engine and school bus in America.

"Obviously if you're braking an 80,000-pound vehicle and you have an unreliable brake system, that would be catastrophic," said Joe McAleese, the company's president and CEO.

Bendix only hears about counterfeits of its brakes when they fail. So, for now, the counterfeiters are still making everything, including brakes, without authorities being to stop it.

It's a nightmare for manufacturers, who worry their reputations will be tainted by dangerous knockoffs.

Some companies are experimenting with innovations like holographic labels that are hard for counterfeiters to duplicate. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce even goes to other countries in search of the factories where the fakes are being made.

How to Spot a Fake

To spot counterfeit products, know what the legitimate product would cost. If it's available for far less, it could be a fake. Get familiar with what the real product "looks" like. Study the packaging and logos and look for slip-ups.

Study the quality of the item if you can, which is easy to do with fake purses, but not so easy with prescription pills and brakes.

Buy from reputable retailers. Counterfeit products have shown up in mainstream stores, but they are still most common at flea markets and on Web sites.