Forget Prada, Burberry, Louis Vuitton -- Counterfeiters Go After Toothpaste

Walk through the right neighborhood in any big city, and you can find scores of fake Rolex watches, DVDs, Burberry jackets and Hermes handbags.

But how about knockoff toothpaste?

You probably won't find it being sold out of a briefcase on the street corner, but it might be at your local corner store.

The recent news that counterfeit Colgate toothpaste may contain a poisonous chemical used in antifreeze has shed new light on these other knockoffs.

While such low-cost items as toothpaste, shampoo and batteries don't seem likely targets for counterfeiting, there actually is a large market for such goods. But most times the consumer doesn't realize that they are buying a fake product.

"The allure here is that they're products being used every day. Everybody has a demand for toothpaste. There is a constant market for it," Robert L. Tucker, an intellectual property lawyer in New York told ABC News. "When you make a counterfeit Guess T-shirt or a counterfeit Ralph Lauren T-shirt, you're not sure there's going to be a demand for it."

Tucker said that these products typically fall under the radar screen.

"Who is going to scrutinize toothpaste?" he said. "Somebody, when they see a $38 Louis Vuitton bag being sold on the street is going to scrutinize because the bag normally sells for $3,000."

The bogus products can often be hard to differentiate from the real thing. While that watch on the street might say Roloflex, the toothpaste at your local drugstore might look just like the real thing.

The fake toothpaste was labeled "Colgate" but Colgate-Palmolive Co. said it came in the wrong packaging.

These products often show up at discount stores -- where items typically cost 99 cents or a dollar -- according to the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition.

The group is funded by lawyers and private investigators as well as companies, including Burberry, Abercrombie & Fitch, Calvin Klein, Louis Vuitton, Ford, Nike and Philip Morris.

Friday, the U.S. customs agency announced that it has teamed with China in a new stepped-up effort to combat counterfeit goods. China has promised to take a tougher stance against product pirates, U.S. officials said.

China accounted for about 80 percent of the 14,775 shipments of counterfeit goods seized at U.S. ports last year, W. Ralph Basham, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told The Associated Press.

"We've got to start dealing with the source of the problem. We can't expect to rely upon interdiction to be our tool in order to stop these products," Basham said.

But counterfeit goods -- particularly medicines -- are starting to come in from other countries, including India and the United Arab Emirates.

In 2006, U.S. agents increased their seizures of counterfeit goods by 83 percent, making more than 14,000 seizures worth at least $155 million, according to the Homeland Security Department.

"Anything that can be counterfeited will be counterfeited. There's just too much profit in it, and the risks are too low," Nils Montan, president of the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition told ABC News. "It is not treated as a crime that is commensurate with the problem."

So why would somebody bother to counterfeit an item that sells for less than $5?

"It's a matter of markup," Montan said. "The products that they produce they can make for maybe 5 or 10 cents and still sell it for a couple of bucks. It's a profit, and you have volume to make up for it."

"It's always been around, particularly in the developing world," Montan added. "Now we're seeing it in the United States. … This is something that is growing."

Montan said that consumers should look out for blurred images, misspellings and packaging that just doesn't look right.

Another telltale sign from Montan that the product is probably fake: "The price is too good."