INDIANAPOLIS – Customs and Border Protection is on track to seize a record amount of counterfeit product and drugs in Indianapolis this year.
In its fiscal year 2020, CBP seized 26,503 counterfeit shipments nationwide. Had it all been real, it would have been valued at $1.3 billion.
In the fiscal year 2021, CBP agents seized more than 27,000 shipments. Had it all been authentic, it would have generated $3.3 billion.
In Indianapolis, agents seized about 1,600 items in 2021. This year, they have already hit that mark and expect to surpass it.
“Probably by 100 percent,” Chief Tim Hubbard confirmed.
For the first time, CBS4 got a rare, in-person and behind-the-scenes look at some of the product in custody. Hubbard pointed out fake designer purses, counterfeit clothing and boxes that appeared to be real Apple Air Pods but weren’t.
“This to me looks real,” anchor Angela Brauer said.
“It does look real,” Hubbard responded. “They’re getting better with this stuff.”
CBP scans millions of packages that enter the United States. Each item comes down the slide to a table. It is x-rayed, then examined. If agents deem the item counterfeit, they will put a 30-day hold on it. The item will eventually be destroyed.
“We try daily to win the border. We try to make a difference,” Hubbard said.
“What is the oddest thing you have seen in your career?” Brauer asked.
Hubbard said at one point, criminals tore apart a cardboard box and put drugs inside the corrugation.
“They conceal it in everything,” he explained. “They conceal it in mufflers. They conceal it in – over here, actually – we had marijuana concealed in a life vest! Like, boat life vests.”
According to Hubbard, the package was addressed to someone who would have sounded like a sailor. Criminals, he said, often use fake names.
“We have our job cut out for us,” he laughed.
Hubbard said the items are dangerous for consumers because in many cases, they have not been regulated by the proper authorities. Fake sunglasses could hurt someone’s eyes. Shoes could hurt a person’s feet. Headphones could harm someone’s hearing. A CBP spokesperson also warned counterfeit makeup has been found to contain dangerous and deadly chemicals.
“I have read some of this stuff can also be linked to high crime activity overseas,” Brauer added.
“That’s correct,” Hubbard said. “That’s always been what we have thought, is that it is linked to terrorism.”
Hubbard admitted it has been difficult for CBP to catch the people behind these crimes in the past. Records from 2021, though, show CBP arrested 388 people and received 100 convictions for intellectual property crimes.
A majority of counterfeit products were found to come from Hong Kong. Hubbard said often, people will resell them at local flea markets or online.
“E-commerce is just booming right now,” he said. “People are buying online. They don’t go to the store.”
CBS4 asked if inflation would have an impact on counterfeit purchases.
“That’s a good possibility, actually. I have never really thought about the inflation part of it coming up but it could come into play. People still wanting nice things, but they don’t want to pay top dollar for it. They still want to look good,” Hubbard considered.
In April, CBP in Indianapolis seized two shipments of Rolex watches deemed to be counterfeit. The MSRP on them would have been $10.1 million.
Indianapolis has also seen its fair share of narcotics coming through. Often, drugs are marked from Canada and France. They are either being sent to the US or are on their way to the UK.
“This is ketamine,” Hubbard pointed out, as he showed CBS4 to a large clear bag full of white powder. “This was in these decorative features or these decorative pieces. You can’t really tell right now, because it has been handled and it has been broken, but the ketamine is still inside the bag.”
Online, ketamine is listed as an anesthetic for animals. According to Hubbard, though, people are using it as a date rape drug.
CBP found more ketamine concealed in bags claiming to be matcha powder and inside an ottoman.
“Ketamine is a big one,” Hubbard said. “Prescription drugs. Tramadol. It’s a big one right now.”
“This could kill someone,” Brauer pointed out.
CBP is warning consumers not to buy counterfeit items or drugs online. As always, agents say if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.