Cops and Crime: One in four people who buy online gets counterfeits
That designer handbag you bought at a deep discount online? It's a fake.
The rare autographed sports collectible you found on an online auction site? Counterfeit.
Those brand-name sneakers you picked up on the web for half the price the local store is charging? Not the real deal.
Counterfeit goods are an epidemic online and they're costing the U.S. economy as much as $250 billion a year, according to a study published this week by the Better Business Bureau.
In fact, the study says, one in four people who've bought something online ended up with a fake.
"We're seeing an increase not only in Chicago but across the nation and internationally," Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois, told us. "This is a big, growing problem, and the only way to put these scammers out of business is not to give them your business."
The exact scope of the problem is unknown because many victims don't file complaints, Bernas said. But complaints to both the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission have increased in recent years, according to the BBB.
"The numbers are alarming," Bernas said.
How it works
Counterfeiters use a variety of tricks to get your attention, from manipulating online search algorithms to flooding your social media feeds with ads. From there, they'll illegally using copyrighted images of brand name products to attract a sale ... and then send buyers fakes, low-quality substitutes or nothing at all, according to the BBB study.
And it's just not the online retailers you've never heard of that are peddling phony goods. Earlier this year, Amazon announced it was taking a series of steps to keep counterfeit goods out of its third-party marketplace, where sellers can list their products for sale. More than half of all products sold on Amazon last year came from third-party sellers, according to an Associated Press report.
What's being counterfeited? Just about anything you can buy -- cosmetics, shoes, sporting goods, Yeti travel mugs, medicine and even milk.
About this time last year, Bernas told us, there was an upswing in complaints about counterfeit prom dresses, the result of high school girls searching for "cheap prom dresses" online.
Organized crime outfits operating out of China and Hong Kong are behind the vast majority of the phony goods out there -- as much 88 percent, one federal agency says.
What you can do
Avoiding becoming a victim isn't hard, if you're willing to put in a little effort.
"Consumers need to be vigilant," Bernas said.
That means sticking with online retailers you know and trust, and researching ones you don't at the BBB or through an industry association, such as the National Board of Pharmacy for prescription purchases.
Also, check out the "About" section of the retailer's website for clues that something might be amiss, like the lack of a physical address for the operation or typos and grammatical errors.
Watch for red flags, most notably prices significantly lower than those for the same item elsewhere. And don't rely on online reviews; scammers often post fake reviews to pump up their phony products.
If you do find yourself with a fake, contact your credit card company. Many offer refunds to customers who receive counterfeit goods. And let the BBB know through its Scam Tracker website, bbb.org/scamtracker/us/.
To read the full BBB study, go to bbb.org.
Look out, bad guys
Elk Grove Village police officer Rick Meyers can run faster and farther than he did three months ago.
Meyers placed second this week in the Daily Herald's annual "Fittest Loser" contest. During the 12-week event, Meyers lost 65 pounds, going from 300 to 235.
"It was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun," Meyers said.
The contestants met together every Saturday for a "boot camp" exercise session and individually with a trainer several more times a week. They also learned healthy eating habits.
One of Meyers' goals was to run the 5K Human Race in April without stopping. He accomplished that and doubled back to jog alongside another contestant to encourage her.
He enjoyed the camaraderie among the competitors and the support of his co-workers.
"I was surprised I did not get more trash talk from the guys at work," he said.
Cops step up -- way up -- for Special Olympics
Cops at a doughnut shop are usually cliché. But cops at a doughnut shop today are there for a cause -- and a good one, at that.
Officers from hundreds of police departments in the suburbs and across the state will be climbing atop Dunkin' shops' roofs starting at 5 a.m. for the annual Cop on a Rooftop fundraiser.
They'll be collecting donations to support thousands of athletes who take part in Special Olympics Illinois programs. More than 310 locations across the state will be participating, with a goal of surpassing the $871,000 raised last year.
This year's promotional video for the event features Hoffman Estates police officer Susan Levin. She calls Cop on a Rooftop an "exhilarating" event for the way its gives law enforcement a chance to spread the word about Special Olympics.
"I love the fact that they are helping young and older athletes be able to come into themselves and be able to experience things they thought they'd never be able to experience," Levin says of Special Olympics.
The event continues until noon, so there's time for you to get out and pitch in. For a list of participating Dunkin' stores, visit coponarooftop.com/Illinois.pdf.
National Police Week
While you're stopping by to help Special Olympics, it's a good time to thank the officers for all the good they do the rest of the year.
Saturday marks the end of National Police Week, the annual recognition of law enforcement officers, and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the communities.
President John F. Kennedy started the tradition in 1962, declaring May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the surrounding week as Police Week. As many as 40,000 law enforcement leaders, officers, family members and supporters travel to Washington for the annual event, which includes a candlelight vigil, honor guard competition, police dog memorial service and a memorial ceremony honoring officers killed in the line of duty.
The Roll Call of Heroes featured five cops from Illinois, including four Chicago police officers who were killed last year and Glenview officer Owen Masterton, who suffered a fatal heart attack in 2014.
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