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NBC 10 I-Team Undercover: Real cost of fake fashion

The NBC 10 I-Team did some undercover shopping and easily found counterfeit goods for sale around Southern New England, including everything from purses, to footwear and clothing. (WJAR)

The NBC 10 I-Team did some undercover shopping and easily found counterfeit goods for sale around Southern New England, including everything from purses, to footwear and clothing.

On Federal Hill in Providence during the Columbus Day celebration, the NBC 10 I-Team quickly spotted phony Ugg boots for sale, right out in the open.

At a Johnston gas station, an undercover shopper saw counterfeit Louis Vuitton lookalikes and copycat Coach bags.

The seller on Federal Hill was gone within hours. But when the NBC 10 I-Team returned to the gas station, the owner said he had stopped selling the purses and thrown the remaining ones away after customers complained. He said the counterfeit items were already inside the building when he bought the business from the former owner.

"We found the stuff, you know, from the previous guy, and we put it in,” said owner Kenny Patel. “We're not supposed to sell it. So, we throw them out.”

Shoppers probably wouldn't expect to find fake fashion in Newport's swanky shopping district. But seven boutiques there were recently busted by police. Detectives said the high-end shops were selling fake versions of brand names including Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors and Chanel. The total retail value of the seized stash was more than $700,000, according to police.

That leaves many people wondering: what’s the harm in picking up a knock-off purse or phony jacket?

Experts told the NBC 10 I-Team that shoppers are taking risks they may not even realize, and, in turn, supporting crimes with every dollar they spend.

"If you're purchasing these counterfeit items, you're supporting criminal activity,” said Lt. William Accardi of the Rhode Island State Police.

While purses and clothing may have shoddy construction, counterfeit perfume, beauty products and toiletries could be hazardous to your health, Accardi said.

"You don't know what's inside there,” he said. "Antifreeze in perfumes to give it the color. Even human urine."

If that isn’t enough to give you pause, consider where your money really ends up.

“Narcotics trafficking. Human trafficking. Organized crime,” Accardi said. “Even terrorism."

So, how do counterfeit items make their way to stores in Rhode Island and Massachusetts?

Agents with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol said the number one source is China. Look-alike handbags and clothing are often shipped to the United State without brand names. Then, stolen designer logos are attached once the items are inside the country, making it tougher to catch shipments at the border.

"I'd say buyer beware,” Accardi said.

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