TAMPA, Fla. - U.S. Homeland Security agents are seeing counterfeit versions of just about everything penetrating our borders.
It's probably no surprise to you that it includes fake purses, sneakers and even cell phone accessories.
But the I-Team for 10News' sister station WFTS discovered that other things making the list include high-end cosmetics, especially those items purportedly manufactured by MAC.
“They're highly pigmented makeup. They last you all day long,” said Holly Whitis, a professional makeup artist in Tampa who worked for MAC for three years.
“Just the quality of it, the way it sits on your face,” makes MAC one of the most popular brands on the market.
But that popularity has led to MAC products being increasingly counterfeited.
The I-Team has learned fake MAC items are turning up in Bay area flea markets, on Craigslist and on Facebook.
“It could break you out. It could cause irritations, allergies that you may not know that you have,” said Whitis.
The I-Team logged onto eBay and quickly found MAC makeup being sold by Tampa-based sellers.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Special Agent in Charge Shane Folden says many of the products sold there are not real.
Folden says he can't talk about ongoing investigations, but he confirms his agents are working to break up large-scale counterfeit makeup rings.
“Your ultimate goal is to work your way up and disrupt the organizations that are responsible for manufacturing,” Folden said.
Those organizations appear to be plentiful.
Chinese factories seeking new customers routinely post videos on YouTube.
“When you buy a legitimate product, you have the confidence that the manufacturer is held to certain standards. When you buy a counterfeit item, there's absolutely no guarantee,” said Folden.
Earlier this month, a representative of a counterfeit MAC website sent the I-Team an e-mail claiming more than 95 percent of sellers on eBay buy from her company.
We bought two MAC products from eBay.
An employee of a local MAC store confirmed that eye shadow from a Tampa powerseller is real, but lipstick we bought from a Riverview woman is counterfeit.
We paid $13 for the counterfeit lipstick. We went to the MAC store, where we bought the real thing for $15.
When we tried to talk to the woman who sold us the counterfeit product, she wouldn't do an on camera interview, but she told us the name of the Chinese website where she bought the product.
We found the lipstick for sale there for less than a dollar.
Counterfeit MAC has also turned up on Amazon.
“I ordered a blush from the Hello Kitty collection,” said a Florida teen on her online fashion blog. “I was like OK, it's gonna be real for $10. It wasn't. I've never had an issue with Amazon before, so really didn't expect anything.”
Amazon began selling merchandise for third parties several years ago, giving the company less control over each individual item.
But a spokesperson tells the I-Team that Amazon won't tolerate sellers of counterfeit products.
The company's policy is to kick them off the site and destroy any counterfeit products that end up in Amazon's distribution warehouses.
A side-by-side comparison shows how difficult it can be to tell the real thing from the fake.
You can see differences in bar codes, product color labels and even the sheen of the metal.
But experts say the best way to be positive you're getting the real thing is to buy from an authorized retailer or the company's official website, even if it's not as big of a bargain.
“Generally, if something's priced too good to believe it, it's generally too good to believe it,” said Folden.
eBay MAC makeup buying guide: http://www.ebay.com/gds/Fake-MAC-Cosmetics-/10000000016463860/g.html
MAC Cosmetics Counterfeit Education Information: https://www.maccosmetics.com/cms/customer_service/counterfeit_education.tmpl
Amazon Counterfeit Goods Policy: http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=201166010&qid=1384386102&sr=1-1