Surge of counterfeit items flying into Atlanta airport

A Gucci fanny pack?

With the holiday shopping season kicking into gear, Customs officers are seeing a surge in counterfeit goods being flown into Atlanta.

Thursday, Customs and Border Protection showed reporters and fliers coming through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport a sampling of some of the knock-off merchandise they've seized just within the past week.

A table in the Maynard Jackson International Terminal was covered with more than a dozen brands of phony designer labels on items ranging from shirts to speakers. There were fake Fendi accessories, counterfeit Christian Louboutin red-bottomed sneakers, and items emblazoned with the names Ralph Lauren, Rolex, Gucci, Beats by Dre, and more. There was even a shipment of counterfeit Atlanta Falcons “Salute to Service” Veterans Day jerseys – just days after the holiday passed.


"Everybody wants to look good. Everybody wants to be that show-and-teller," says Supervisor Ronnie Matheson, "but you know what? At the end of the day, what are you really buying?"

Matheson says some 300 boxes of phony items, many of which came from Hong Kong, have been seized this week, which would be worth some $2 million if they were the real deal selling at retail cost. And this, he says, is just the start of a big flow they will see throughout the holiday shopping season.

"Usually you'll see start seeing it about six months out, and then it becomes overwhelming," says Matheson.

While many of the phony goods may not actually hurt anyone other than the brands whose trademarks and intellectual property the counterfeiters are stealing, Matheson says there is one dangerous trend fooling consumers this year: fake Yeti tumblers.

"With the naked eye, you wouldn't know better," says Matheson, who explains that Yeti is just one company which sends reps to train CBP on the telltale signs of fakes. "For me, once I saw the way it was manifested, the way it was packaged, the colors--Yeti only has certain colors. There's not 20,000 colors of Yetis.

"The paint is the big thing," says Matheson, who explains that the phony cups have paint with lead in it. "If you look the paint goes all the way to the rim. With your mouth touching the rim, you could be lead-poisoning, contaminating your body."

Adriana Cisneros and her mom Sandra Orozco were among the passengers who stopped to get a closer look at the table of counterfeit goods, and the two spent some time comparing Orozco's authentic Louis Vuitton bag with one of the replicas on the table, ticking through a list of differences, from the material and hardware to the layout of the signature pattern.

The supervisor says this year, clothing, belts, shoes, and bags, as well as the fake Yeti cups, seem to be big for counterfeiters. Last year, he says, it was the counterfeit hoverboards, which made headlines for their dangerous fire-starting capabilities. Matheson notes that it's also true that some of the money made from sales of fake items goes to fund terrorism or human trafficking. Yet he says for many people who sell and buy counterfeit items, they're just trying to make a quick buck or get a good deal.

"We can't tell you not to buy it," he says. "It's our job to try to stop it."

Robert Lynch and Dan Gladden, supervisory import specialists with Customs and Border Protection, spoke with WSB’s Veronica Waters about moments on the job that have made them feel especially good at the end of the day:


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