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N4T Investigators: Costly counterfeits

TUCSON – “I don’t like being cheated and I don’t like seeing other people cheated and if I can prevent other women from having to go through this stupid experience, then, of course, I want to let people know about it.”

She doesn’t want to be identified due to privacy concerns and she’s embarrassed. Debbie, not her real name, told the News 4 Tucson Investigators that she bought almost $200 worth of clothes from a China-based company called “Talemiss.”

“They kept appearing in my Facebook feed, the ads for them, and they were beautiful,” she told the News 4 Tucson Investigators.

Debbie ordered six shirts, a dress, a pair of shorts, and a necklace. She says received four of the nine items. “What I got was just junk, it was tiny, it was made from cheap polyester. It was awful.”

Debbie later took screenshots of clothing ads on Facebook. Within one hour, she found what appears to be the same company she ordered from, using a dozen other names. They offered incredible sales, and apparently used the same photos like those on the Talemiss website, showing only part of the models’ faces, indicating they’re stock photos or from other businesses.

“I do think it is an epidemic problem because a lot of us shop online,” said Myriam Cruz, a spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau, The BBB recently did a study of counterfeit goods sold online. It found:

-Counterfeiting and intellectual piracy cost the U.S. economy $200 to $250 billion dollars and 750,000 jobs annually.

-One in four people has bought something online that turned out to be counterfeit.

-88% of counterfeit goods come from China and Hong Kong.

-The types of counterfeit goods most often sold online are clothing and accessories, watches and jewelry, and shoes.

“One of the most surprising things from the study is that people don’t really know when they have a counterfeit good,” Cruz said. “They really didn’t know until after someone actually pointed it out or someone saw that there was an extra letter in the branding.”

Melissa Ruiz, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations, said, “The demand for counterfeit goods seems to be increasing because they are very attractive to the consumer.”

Ruiz said some of the telltale signs that an item is counterfeit is a label with misspelled or crooked wording and a poor sewing job; the stitching may be pulled or not consistent. Counterfeit electronics often are much lighter in weight than the real thing. She showed us a fake Apple iPhone battery. The Apple logo was covered by a piece of black tape so that it would not be caught by Customs and Border Protection. She also showed us fake Viagra, with no pharmaceutical stamp on the pills. A guy was busted for selling them out of his car in Phoenix.

Ruiz says a lot of people who buy something only because it’s the lowest price end up with counterfeit goods.

“Debbie” knows she should’ve used a credit card instead of PayPal because it’s easier to get a refund. But she’s furious with Facebook for accepting the ads, and with PayPal, which she claimed provided a refund only after she shamed them on social media. But she wants to warn everyone about the clothing company.

“The fact that there are crooks in China who are trying to steal my money, it’s disappointing but it’s not a surprise, I guess,” Debbie said.

The clothing company and Facebook did not get back to us. A PayPal spokesperson said they refunded “Debbie’s” money, including her shipping costs after she provided the company’s required documentation.

Agent Ruiz says counterfeit goods being sold online will continue to increase because more people are shopping online. She says many victims don’t report it, although it’s easy to do. You can report counterfeiting here:

If you have a story you’d like us to investigate, email us at or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

Matthew Schwartz

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