Bootleg Santa: Federal agents confiscate fake gifts in Chicago

December 16, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Perhaps Santa needs a brand new bag this year. His pack will definitely be lighter. The I-Team has found thousands of bootleg products sent mostly from the Far East are being intercepted by customs officers in Chicago-- from Blackhawks jerseys and electronics to Disney DVD'S and designer boots. They're would-be gifts that won't make it for Christmas morning. I-Team cameras went behind the scenes at an unusual workshop near O'Hare.

This place is as hard to get to as the North Pole, hidden in a warehouse the size of the United Center. But the lights and bells here aren't for decoration. They are warnings that some of these not-so-pretty packages need to be opened before Christmas.

Box after box are scanned and x-rayed as U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents inspect nearly two million packages a month at the holidays, looking for fakes.

"Those all Blackhawks jerseys? Where's that going?" said ABC7 Eyewitness News Investigative Reporter Chuck Goudie.

"This one's going to someone in Ohio. (Must be a big Blackhawks fan.) Just looking at this, the label is crooked, it's not smooth. I probably couldn't tell the difference if it was on its own, but here's where you can," said Brian Bell, U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Agents are trained to look for minor defects, such as folds in the logo or felt backing that just peels off. "The quality is just not there," said Bell.

This intercepted package from China is filled with Disney classic DVDs -- but the slipper doesn't fit on Cinderella's two-disk special. Agents say it's definitely a fake.

Goudie asks: "If you opened this on Christmas morning, you wouldn't know that it was not legit. So you know this is counterfeit because it's not being shipped by Disney?

"It's not being shipped by Disney. Disney is not going to ship one box going to a residential address in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Here it says "Made in Italy." This box is coming from China. That's another huge indicator," said Bell.

If it were real, a top-of-the line Ferrari engine hair dryer normally sells for roughly $200. Instead, this fake has "pressure" misspelled on the box and doesn't have any safety labels.

"Would you want to use this in your bathroom? It hasn't been tested, we don't know if it's safe, you mix electricity and water together and you potentially run the risk of loss of life," said Bell.

"Sometimes you might think that the deal is too good to pass over but you have to be very careful, for your own good, and for your own safety as well," said John Mosquera, senior import specialist.

In the "detention room," walls are lined with fakes from phony North Face jackets to fake designer bags. Gift pirates trying to steal Christmas from legitimate vendors are so good, they've even faked the authenticity guarantee and hologram on popular Ugg boots.

"There's an interest in them trying to make it look as legitimate as possible, because they want the consumer to think that they're buying a legitimate product. The biggest goal that we're getting here is they're not getting in the arms of the consumer, you're not getting ripped off, they're not jeopardizing your safety," said Bell.

The goal of all this is to prevent counterfeit products from being sold, rather than prosecution. So, buyers are sent letters notifying them that their gifts were confiscated and in most cases, destroyed. The government figures that incinerating a box load of fake Blackhawks jerseys someone has paid for is punishment enough.

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