America’s Most Counterfeited Items

July 20, 2018 by Grant Suneson

U.S. Customs and Border Protection processes over 278 million cargo and parcel shipments from overseas each year. While the majority of these contain legal goods, a small percentage contain counterfeit items. Customs and border officers seized and destroyed some 34,143 shipments containing counterfeit items in the 2017 fiscal year. Thousands more shipments of counterfeit goods likely went undetected and made it into the United States.

The CBP seized 8.2% more shipments of counterfeit goods in 2017 compared to the year before, when it seized 31,560 shipments. However, the value of the counterfeit items seized was considerably less, dropping from $1.38 billion in 2016 to $1.21 billion in 2017.

Forgers from across the globe send falsified goods to the United States to undercut prices set by the companies that actually own the intellectual property rights of the items. Knockoff electronics, accessories, and clothing rake in millions of dollars each year.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the counterfeit items seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to determine America’s most counterfeited items.

Counterfeit items are almost all luxury goods like watches, jewelry, electronics, and accessories. People are often duped into buying counterfeit versions of name brand goods when they see a deal that seems too good to be true. Some bogus items can actually be dangerous.

Pharmaceuticals are among the most counterfeited items. Counterfeit medicine can often contain incorrect dosages or even completely lack the active ingredient that makes the genuine drug effective. In the past, automobile parts have ranked among the most counterfeited items. These fabricated car parts often do not meet the safety standards that regulated and inspected products must adhere to, leading to unsafe conditions on the road.

Click here to see America’s most counterfeited items.
Click here to see our detailed findings and methodology.

Source: ilterriorm / Getty Images

10. Toys
> FY 2017 seizures: 449
> Pct. of total seizures: 1.3%
> Value of seized goods: $12,128,156

During the 2016 fiscal year, there were so few seizures of counterfeit toys that U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not even list it as its own category. This past year, CBP officials seized 449 shipments of counterfeit toys. That accounted for 1.3% of the total seizures. Had those toys been authentic, they would have been worth over $12 million, according to CBP officials.

Source: Thinkstock

9. Computers / accessories
> FY 2017 seizures: 454
> Pct. of total seizures: 1.3%
> Value of seized goods: N/A

Computers are an integral part of the modern world, and counterfeiters have attempted to smuggle millions of dollars worth of computers and accessories into the United States. In one case, a California man tried to import fake computers, which would have been worth $2.6 million if genuine. He was sentenced to more than three years in prison. Hundreds of additional shipments of counterfeit computers were seized by CBP in the 2017 fiscal year.

Source: JLGutierrez / Getty Images

8. Optical media
> FY 2017 seizures: 809
> Pct. of total seizures: 2.4%
> Value of seized goods: $27,573,775

The number of seizures of counterfeit optical media has dropped steadily over the past few years. The CBP seized only 809 shipments of falsified items like DVDs, Blu-Rays, and video games in fiscal year 2017. The year before, there were 963 seized shipments. In 2015, there were 1,442 seizures. The items taken in these seizures in 2017 would have been worth over $27 million if genuine.

Source: Thinkstock

7. Pharmaceuticals / personal care
> FY 2017 seizures: 2,209
> Pct. of total seizures: 6.5%
> Value of seized goods: $69,758,720

While many of the fake goods smuggled into the United States are relatively harmless luxury items like fashion accessories or entertainment, counterfeit pharmaceuticals can be dangerous. Inauthentic drugs that are not as effective as genuine medicine — or are completely ineffective — can risk the health of those who take them. Some counterfeit drugs may not have the correct dosage or altogether lack the active ingredient that makes the genuine medicine effective. CBP seized 2,209 shipments of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and personal care items worth an average of $31,579 per shipment. Pharmaceuticals and other personal care items, such as cosmetics, toothpaste, or shampoo, made up 6.5% of the seized counterfeit items in fiscal year 2017.

Source: Thinkstock

6. Handbags / wallets
> FY 2017 seizures: 3,266
> Pct. of total seizures: 9.6%
> Value of seized goods: $234,451,926

Counterfeit handbags and wallets accounted for less than 10% of CBP seizures in 2017, yet the items seized would have been worth over $234 million if genuine — nearly one-fifth of the total value of all seized goods that year. Fake luxury goods like purses are often made overseas to replicate high-end and designer products at a lower price. Yet these items often use lower-grade materials and lack the durability and quality of the genuine products. CBP seized 3,266 shipments of counterfeit handbags and wallets in fiscal year 2017, a slight uptick from 2016 when 3,184 such shipments were intercepted.

Source: kazoka30 / iStock

5. Consumer products
> FY 2017 seizures: 3,912
> Pct. of total seizures: 11.5%
> Value of seized goods: $46,265,355

Consumer products is a new category of seized counterfeit items. It includes drinking glasses, electronics accessories, and light fixtures. CBP officials seized 3,912 shipment of these everyday items in 2017, accounting for 11.5% of total seizures that year. Because many of the items in this category would have replaced relatively inexpensive items even when genuine, consumer products accounted for less than 4% of the total value of seized items, or just over $46 million.

Source: Thinkstock

4. Consumer electronics
> FY 2017 seizures: 4,137
> Pct. of total seizures: 12.1%
> Value of seized goods: $85,115,639

Consumer electronics are essentially any electronic device intended for personal or home use, including phones and TVs, kitchen appliances, or grooming products. Many American homes have several such products, so consumer electronics is a big market for counterfeiters. Officials reported 4,137 seizures of counterfeit consumer electronics in 2017. More than 1,300 of those seizures came during a joint operation between CBP and the General Administration of China Customs. In total, counterfeit consumer electronics seized in 2017 would have been worth more than $85 million if genuine.

Source: aldomurillo / Getty Images

3. Footwear
> FY 2017 seizures: 4,224
> Pct. of total seizures: 12.3%
> Value of seized goods: $41,490,429

Each year since 2014 there have been hundreds more seizures of counterfeit footwear. In 2014, CBP seized less than 1,300 intercepted shipments of bogus shoes. That number increased to 2,818 the next year, to 3,630 the year after, and to 4,224 in 2017. Those shipments would have been worth nearly $41.5 million if they were authentic. Though there were close to 600 additional seizures of counterfeit shoes in 2017 compared to the year before, the 2016 estimated MSRP of the counterfeit shoes was nearly $10 million higher.

Source: Thinkstock

2. Watches / jewelry
> FY 2017 seizures: 4,297
> Pct. of total seizures: 12.6%
> Value of seized goods: $460,162,145

Counterfeit watches and jewelry were not the most commonly seized type of item in 2017, but they had the highest market value. CBP reported 4,297 seizures of phony watches and jewelry that if authentic would have been worth over $460 million — over 38% of the total value of counterfeit items seized. Each intercepted shipment was worth an average of $107,089. Compared to 2016, watch and jewelry seizures increased by more than any other category. CBP intercepted 3,407 fake watch and jewelry shipments in 2016, 890 fewer than in 2017. Unlike many commonly counterfeited items, watches, rings, and other jewelry are relatively small yet quite expensive. This allows counterfeiters to maximize the value of goods smuggled in each shipment.

Source: China Photos / Getty Images

1. Wearing apparel / accessories
> FY 2017 seizures: 5,223
> Pct. of total seizures: 15.3%
> Value of seized goods: $74,880,617

Wearing apparel and accessories again topped the list of America’s most counterfeited items. CBP seized 5,223 shipments of counterfeit clothes, accounting for over 15% of all seized shipments. In the past seven years, wearing apparel and accessories has been the most seized category. In 2013, seizures peaked when CBP seized 9,894 shipments of fake clothing and accessories. The number of intercepted shipments declined in 2017 from 6,406 the year before, by far the largest drop of any category. The Super Bowl is one of the main targets for counterfeiters. Operation Team Player, an effort to curb counterfeit sports items, recovered a reported 24,324 items worth over $1 million just before the big game.

Detailed Findings & Methodology:

Officials say that buying counterfeit items harms more than just the company whose products are imitated. The money from counterfeiting may fund much more serious crimes. Kevin Corsaro from the CBP Office of Field Operations said in a CBP informational video “The money that is made by counterfeiting is used to launder drugs, weapons, and a whole host of illegal activities.”

Most counterfeit items seized while entering the United States come from Asia. Some 87% of seized counterfeit items came from China or Hong Kong. This data represents only where the goods were shipped from, not necessarily where they were made. But it is likely most of them came from China. The country leads the world in producing fake goods, accounting for over 60% of all counterfeit items globally.

There are several reasons for this. China is already a manufacturing hub, so it has people experienced in making products, from clothing to electronics. China’s federal government has increased its efforts to prevent intellectual property infringement, with limited effect. As one of the largest countries in the world, it is nearly impossible to crack down on all counterfeiters, especially when political corruption in some areas make officials less inclined to do so.

There were more seizures of apparel and accessories than any other type of item. The 5,223 apparel and accessory seizures represented over 15% of total seizures. Counterfeit watches and jewelry were by far the most valuable items — or at least they were knockoffs of the most valuable items. Had the seized watches and jewelry been genuine, they would have been worth over $460 million, or more than 38% of the value of all seized items in the 2017 fiscal year.

This list is not all encompassing. Some 15% of seized shipments either did not fit into any CBP category or contained items that fit into multiple categories. Those shipments fell under the miscellaneous label “All others.” It is also important to note that there is no way to know exactly how much counterfeit merchandise made it into the United States.

Counterfeit labels and tags were one of the most valuable items seized that were sorted into the “all others” category. These labels would have been used to add legitimacy to counterfeit clothing and accessories had they made it into the country. Those labels would have been worth nearly $81 million had they been genuine.

The CBP reported that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigation officials working to protect intellectual property rights made 457 arrests related to counterfeiting. Those arrests led to 288 indictments and 242 convictions.

Kevin Corsaro of the CBP Office of Field Operations said that buyers can typically avoid buying counterfeits by “knowing what the genuine article typically costs. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Consumers can also avoid buying fakes by checking what the product looks like as well as its quality to ensure it meets the company’s standards. They can help insulate themselves from fraudulent products by buying from reputable retailers and avoiding suspicious internet merchants.

In order to determine America’s most counterfeited items, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. Items were ranked based on the number of total seizures made in fiscal year 2017. Market values also came from CBP, which determined the value of the counterfeit goods based on the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of the goods the counterfeit items were made to imitate.