Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement seized more than 17,000 counterfeit items from Twin Cities-area businesses last week, cracking down on the sale of fake goods before the holiday shopping season begins.
Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Bloomington, said the seizure of items with a street value of more than $640,000 was the largest his office has seen in the three years he's been there.
The items were seized between Nov. 17 and Nov. 21 from 21 Twin Cities-area businesses, none of which were named due to the ongoing investigation.
Arnold said no businesses have been shut down, but he would not say whether any had been fined.
He warned that counterfeit sales rob legitimate companies of billions of dollars every year. If the items seized last week had been sold at the suggested retail price of genuine brand items, they would have been worth nearly $3 million, he said.
Industry and trade associations estimate that counterfeiting and piracy cost the U.S. economy between $200 billion and $250 billion per year, and more than 750,000 American jobs.
"It's not a victimless crime," Arnold said.
Some of the seized items on display Wednesday included a fake Brett Favre Vikings jersey with a phony autograph, fake Coach wallets and purses, and counterfeit bottles of Chanel perfume. Authorities also seized jewelry and batteries that were passed off as brand-named items.
ICE agents said there are ways for consumers to tell if they are buying a fake item: Look for poor stitch-work on purses or wallets, discolored packaging and bleeding printing on perfume boxes, or faded colors on athletic jerseys.
The bottom line for shoppers: "If the price is too good to be true, it's too good to be true," Arnold said.