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'If the price sounds too good to be true....' feds warn

Everyone likes a bargain but, sometimes, that low, low price is a tip off, a red flag of sorts.

You may be buying a fake.

With the holiday shopping season upon us, federal law enforcement officials warned consumers Tuesday to be on the look out for counterfeit goods and suggested more than once that shoppers need to be the front line of defense.

"If it's a popular holiday gift, there's probably a counterfeit out there," said Kevin M. Kelley, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Buffalo.

Like holiday carols and office parties, the warnings about fake goods have become an annual ritual, in part because of the availability of counterfeit products across the region.

Over the past year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized $7 million in counterfeit goods in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, making it one of the 10 busiest field offices in the nation.

Customs officials said the fake products ranged from sports jerseys and toys to perfumes and air bags.

"Only buy from retailers you're familiar with," said Rose Brophy, director of field operations for Customs and Border Protection. "And bottom line, if the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Brophy and Kelly said the counterfeit products can carry name brands such as Chanel or Adidas and can be bought online, at flea markets or in the corner store.

Often, it's difficult to tell the fake from the real thing, Kelly said, but he noted that it's not uncommon, for example, to see misspellings or poor stitching in a counterfeit sports jersey.

"Don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions," he said.

Even if people knowingly shop for a fake jersey or pair of shoes, they should be aware that they may be subsidizing a criminal organization, investigators said.

"There's been a number of prosecutions this year alone," said U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr.  "And we will readily and actively prosecute these crimes when they come to our attention."

Lewis Robinson, special agent in charge of the Secret Service in Buffalo, advised consumers to also be aware of cyber fraud and the tools criminals use to invade your online privacy and security.

Robinson said consumers should practice good "cyber hygiene" by using anti-spy ware and strong and constantly changing passwords.

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