CENTER, TX (KTRE) - Counterfeit goods are a significant problem in the United States. In most cases, the best protection to becoming a victim is awareness.
East Texas Peace Officers Association members were educated on the topic this week in Center.
The information is also valuable to consumers.
Tipton Ford service director Ronnie Coats was fully aware of counterfeit airbags.
"First clue, they're really cheap. It's an expensive part," Coats said. "If you find one for less than half price, you need to ask questions."
And Nacogdoches Eye Associates' Dr. Gerardo Saldana said the same rule applies to counterfeit contacts, particularly non-prescription colored lenses.
"Some people go on and acquire colored contact lenses at convenience stores, gas stations, flea markets, nail salons, which a lot of times is not the proper avenue," Saldana said.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs refer to the popular counterfeited products as hot products coming from so-called factories.
"A lot of these factories are just no more than a couple of people operating out of an apartment building in China, making all this kind of stuff," said Corbin Wickman, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs.
The non-sterile conditions lead to potential health and safety risks for buyers.
"When you have bacteria in a contact lens and you put it in your eye you're more likely to get a corneal ulcer, a corneal infection that potentially lead to a blinding situation," Saldana said.
"The stuff you get on the Internet I would be particularly suspicious of, eBay, those type of places," Coats said. "Not that you can't get good parts there, but when it comes to airbags, it can be your life if it doesn't deploy correctly."
Federal prosecutors won't handle counterfeit cases unless they hurt people or involve multi-millions of dollars in economic loss.
"And sometimes we'll fill up a whole 31-foot U-Haul, even with all that, it's not enough to take prosecution federally," Wickman said.
State prosecutors are saddled with a high burden of proof that the seller knows the items are counterfeit.
"You can't kinda know, you can't assume he knows," Wickman said.
Strategic interagency partnerships and consumer awareness can reduce the illegal importation and sale of counterfeit goods.