MCALLEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — With Christmas just 38 days away, Special Agents are making sure South Texas shoppers don’t fall victim to theft or get hurt from counterfeit products being sold this Cyber Monday.

About 186 million shoppers purchased goods during Cyber Week 2020 and this year those numbers are expected to increase.

“Especially right now where a lot of people are online shopping because we’re still living in the COVID-19 times, we want to make people aware on what to look out for when purchasing items,” said Maria Michel-Manzo, Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations in McAllen, Texas.  

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agents are taking priority to zero in on counterfeit items across South Texas.

“An official website can start with HTTPS and a lot of these companies could even be spoofed, you can send them money from their website, but that should be the only place you’re sending the payment through if they ask for anything else on an additional application, that’s gonna be a no,” said Manzo, “You’re always going to pay for the product straight from the company’s website and not through these other money applications or sites.”

HSI agents told ValleyCentral that they prioritize counterfeit items because often times these types of goods can be harmful or dangerous to the consumer.

“We see counterfeit cell phones, anything that comes out new also comes out new counterfeit too,” said Manzo, “These are known to explode, and then we also have counterfeit contact lenses that could be very harmful to your eyes, even lead to blindness, even fake makeup that could lead to rashes of burning of the skin.”

With money tight for many as the economy suffers, it may seem like an easy fix to buy the knock-off brands, but special agents say that decision could be a dangerous mistake.

“We do have Beats Headphones here that are not approved by the FDA or any government, the audio levels could be wrong, so they can be harmful to your ears, they can pop or explode,” said Manzo.

Ahead of the deals already popping up, agents say to always research online sellers before purchasing.  

Read the comments from people who have made previous purchases from the site and when submitting financial information online, verify that the website is secure and that payments are submitted to website addresses beginning with https to prevent a nightmare before Christmas.

“Remember if you buy from someone like this, you can get a fake product, or you may not even get a product at all and you definitely can’t return them,” said Manzo.

If you are arrested for selling counterfeit items you could spend up to 10 years in prison.

If you’d like to report any counterfeit items, you can contact the Homeland Security Investigations Tip Line at 866-347-2423.