ICE, industry warn public of holiday scams
WASHINGTON — A group of federal partners at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) teamed with industry and nonprofit organizations to warn consumers today to be wary of holiday shopping scams designed to dupe them into buying counterfeit products.
Federal agencies will be conducting increased operations during the holiday season targeting the importation and distribution of counterfeit and pirated products. Enforcement operations will be conducted by special agents, officers and import specialists from ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), and the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA OCI). This year, the federal government is teaming with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC) and the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) to help get the word out to consumers about the dangers these products pose.
During the weeks leading up to the end of the year, the market is flooded with counterfeit products being sold at stores, on street corners, and online, not only ripping the consumer off and providing shoddy products, but also putting their personal financial information at risk. The most popular counterfeit products seized each year include headphones, sports jerseys, personal care products, shoes, toys, luxury goods, cell phones and electronic accessories.
Once it is determined that the items are counterfeit, federal officials will seize the merchandise. But in many instances, the damage to the consumer and the economy has already been done.
"These holiday law enforcement operations are designed to seize illegal products, identify criminal networks and protect consumers. They are also a great example of the tremendous cooperation between all of our law enforcement and industry partners at the IPR Center," said Lev Kubiak, director of the ICE-led IPR Center. "Consumers need to be aware that counterfeiters don't care if the products you buy are well made, if they make you sick, or if they arrive at all. These criminals are preying on your holiday spirit of giving to make a quick buck and fund their criminal enterprises."
"The FBI urges the American public to be skeptical about offers that sound too good to be true when doing their holiday shopping," said Ronald Hosko, assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division. "Counterfeit merchandise dilutes legitimate brand-name products and can even be dangerous. The FBI works with our law enforcement partners and the private sector to protect intellectual property rights. We need consumers to help us in these efforts by not buying knockoff goods."
"Counterfeit goods threaten American innovation, the competitiveness of its businesses, the livelihood of its workers and the health and safety of consumers who purchase inferior products that do not meet federal safety standards," said CBP International Trade Assistant Commissioner Richard DiNucci. "Customs and Border Protection remains vigilant in our commitment to keep products made from stolen intellectual property out of the U.S. and, through our partnership with HSI and our other Federal counterparts, is working to ensure that those responsible for trade in counterfeit goods are held accountable under the law."
"Consumers should be aware that holiday offers that are too good to be true can mask a fraud," said John Roth, director of FDA's Office of Criminal Investigations. "The FDA is on the alert and will take action to stop illegal practices related to FDA-regulated products."
"The holiday season should be a time of families joining together, enjoying holiday lights, and safely powering household appliances," said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "CPSC is working with our federal safety and law enforcement partners to help keep holiday lights, extension cords, and other electrical products that can pose shock and fire hazards out of the hands of consumers."
In the coming weeks, the GIPC will launch a consumer awareness campaign to assist in the overall educational effort, including the release of Top Ten Tips to Protect Yourself for shoppers now and throughout the year.
"A lump of coal and stale fruitcakes are not the only worries shoppers have this holiday season," said David Hirschmann, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's GIPC. "The explosion of counterfeit products at this time of year, and the criminal networks behind them, can hurt the U.S. economy and consumers with potentially dangerous fakes. Increased enforcement efforts targeting these nefarious activities during this season is a win-win–good for business and good for consumers. The Chamber applauds these efforts and supports continuing the resources necessary to keep this important work vibrant and growing."
To further raise awareness of the far-reaching and detrimental consequences of counterfeits and other forms of intellectual property theft, NCPC will release a new video and blog post in preparation for Cyber Monday.
"With Black Friday approaching, consumers will be shopping for bargains," said NCPC President and CEO Ann M. Harkins. "They may be getting more than they bargained for if they do not shop through legitimate stores and websites. Telltale signs of counterfeit products include missing product information, strange or incomplete packaging, and deals that are far too good to be true, especially from unfamiliar vendors. Reducing demand for counterfeit and pirated products is what NCPC's IP Theft public education campaign (www.ncpc.org/getreal) is all about. We're proud to work with the U.S. Department of Justice and these federal partners to raise awareness about the potential harmful effects of purchasing counterfeit products."
The HSI-led IPR Center is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. Working in close coordination with the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 21-member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to intellectual property theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public's health and safety and the U.S. economy.
From the FBI
NICS Turns 15 -- Stats Show Success of FBI's Gun Background Check System
Fifteen years ago, on November 30, 1998, the FBI flipped the switch on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, a provision of the 1993 Brady Act that requires background checks on individuals purchasing firearms or receiving them through some other means.
The goal at the time was to disqualify any transfers of firearms to ineligible individuals while at the same time ensuring timely transactions for eligible individuals. Today, as the FBI-run background check system marks its anniversary, successes are seen daily and in real-time on both fronts.
Since its inception, the NICS has processed more than 177 million background checks requested by gun sellers, or federal firearms licensees (FFLs). On its busiest days, the system processes more than 10,000 automated checks an hour across 94 million records in FBI criminal databases, including the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the Interstate Identification Index (III), and the NICS index of 11 million individuals who fall into certain categories that prohibit them from receiving firearms (see sidebar). Nine out of 10 NICS determinations are instantaneous, so FFLs know immediately whether to proceed with transactions or deny them. To date, NICS queries of criminal databases have resulted in 1,065,090 denials, with 88,479 in 2012 alone.
“The statistics for denials can stand on their own with regards to how well the system works in keeping firearms out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them,” said Steve Fischer, a spokesman for NICS, which is run by the Bureau's Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division in West Virginia.
The most common reasons for denials are prior criminal convictions, domestic violence, drug history, and fugitive status.
In 37 states, NICS background checks are conducted by the FBI when purchases are initiated at one of the country's 46,895 licensed gun sellers. The sellers contact the NICS online through an electronic system or through one of three call centers, which run the names against the databases. Thirteen states perform their own background checks by utilizing the NICS.
While most NICS checks return immediate dispositions of “proceed” or “deny,” about eight percent are delayed, usually because of incomplete criminal history records. By law, the NICS section must make a determination within three days or the transaction may be allowed to proceed. It's during that period that NICS staff research missing information to update the records and create a clearer picture of applicants. Last year alone, the NICS section filled in the blanks on more than 34,000 incomplete criminal history records and then shared the information with state agencies.
Records are not kept on individuals whose transactions are approved to proceed. By law, they are purged within 24 hours. NICS has an appeal process in place for individuals whose transactions are denied.
In addition to firearms, the Safe Explosive Act of 2003 requires background checks as part of the licensing process for individuals shipping or receiving explosives. The requests are submitted to NICS by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), and the ATF makes the final determinations. To date, NICS has processed more than 700,000 explosives background checks; in 2012, NICS processed 148,856 checks and denied 3,077.
NICS employs nearly 500 people and operates 17 hours a day (8 a.m. to 1 a.m.), 364 days a year (closed on Christmas). The system can—and does—routinely process more than 80,000 requests a day. Last December, NICS processed 2.7 million background checks—177,170 in a single day on December 21. According to a 2012 NICS report, the highest volume of background check requests usually occurs on the day after Thanksgiving.
Firearm Prohibitive Criteria
The 11 prohibitive categories for receiving a transferred firearm apply to any individual who:
- Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
- Is a fugitive from justice;
- Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
- Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
- Is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States or who has been admitted to the United States under a non-immigrant visa;
- Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
- Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced U.S. citizenship;
- Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner;
- Has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence; and/or
- Is under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.
Since its inception, the NICS has processed more than 177 million background
From the Department of Homeland Security
Stay Safe While Shopping Online on Cyber Monday
by NPPD Acting Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity Roberta Stempfley
On Monday, millions of Americans will log on to their computers, tablets or smartphones in search of discounts and deals as part of Cyber Monday. Online retailers from across the country now participate in Cyber Monday. Unfortunately, so do cyber criminals and hackers, who are seeking to exploit unwary shoppers for their credit card and financial information.
With the increasing threat of cyber scams and other online shopping fraud, it is important for everyone to practice safe online behavior on Cyber Monday, throughout the holidays, and every day.
Here are some simple cybersecurity tips can help protect your personal information and transactions on Cyber Monday and throughout the holiday season:
Connect with care. Avoid doing any online shopping on unsecure wireless networks, such as places with public and free Wi-Fi. Do your online shopping at home, and make sure your home wireless network is password protected.
Be cautious online. Do not click on suspicious links or download items from unknown sources.
Pay attention to website URLs. Malicious websites may look identical to a legitimate site, but the URL may use a variation in spelling or a different domain (for example, the malicious site may use .net instead of .com). Also, look in the address box for https:// before entering any personal or credit card information. The “s” means secure. Unlike http:// URLs, https:// tells you that the site uses encryption to transmit your information over the Internet.
Set strong passwords. Make sure your passwords are complex and unique to each account. Change your passwords often, and don't set passwords that will be easy for cyber criminals to guess, such as “password.” A good rule of thumb is to create passwords with eight characters or more that use a combination of numbers, letters, and symbols.
Don't believe everything you see. While many retailers are offering great deals on Cyber Monday, there will also be deals that are just too good to be true. Before you buy that new tablet for only $50, be sure to shop only on the websites of trusted retailers, and avoid shopping through pop-up ads or unfamiliar websites.
Use a credit card. There are laws that limit your liability for fraudulent credit card charges. You may not have the same level of protection when using a debit card.
Keep a record of your order. Retain all documentation from the order in case your purchase doesn't ship or you come across unauthorized charges on your bill.
Check your statements. Check your purchase records against your credit card and bank statements. If there are differences, report them immediately.