April 26 was World Intellectual Property Day, an attempt to bring attention to a problem that some find easy to dismiss but has real-life impacts on American workers and children’s safety.

And now the employees who make high-quality U.S. goods have to compete with reality TV, which is celebrating the counterfeit market that’s costing these workers jobs.

Whether it’s name-brand jeans, designer handbags or a must-have child’s toy, there is a black market of counterfeits that pretend to be American-made products but are lower-quality knock-offs.

“If it can be made, it can be counterfeited,” says Jennifer Hanks with the American Apparel & Footwear Association. “It is not just one product. It is not just industry. It is wide-ranging.”

For some shoppers, buying these fakes is a thrill. That’s the sentiment behind the ABC News IMPACT production picked up by Hulu: Super Fakes: The Shadow World of Counterfeit Purses.

But whether it’s knockoff handbags or counterfeit car parts, the negative impacts are the same: American workers lose market share, and American consumers wind up with potentially unsafe products.

Take those fake purses. A 2022 analysis of 47 counterfeit products – including clothing, footwear and other accessories – found 36 percent failed to meet U.S. product safety standards.

“The products that failed our study contained dangerous levels of arsenic, cadmium, phthalates, lead, and more that have been shown to cause adverse health outcomes. Even small amounts can pose significant health risks,” said AAFA President and CEO Steve Lamar.

AAFA supports federal legislation known as the Stopping Harmful Offers on Platforms by Screening Against Fakes in E-Commerce (Shop Safe) Act.  The bill, sponsored by Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware), aims to “reduce the availability of harmful counterfeit products” by incentivizing online platforms to adopt best practices that will prevent third-party sellers from listing counterfeit products for sale.

“Current law holds direct sellers, like brick-and-mortar retailers, liable for the sale of counterfeit products,” the AAFA argues. “But, under current law, platforms that allow third-party sellers to sell harmful counterfeit products are often not liable for the sales of those counterfeit products, even when the third-party seller is unavailable to remedy damage to a brand owner.”

And the problem isn’t just wages American workers lose, law enforcement warns. It’s what criminal gangs and international cartels gain from the profits.

“Counterfeit versions of popular brands are regularly sold in online marketplaces and flea markets,” reports U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “Not only are counterfeit goods produced in unregulated and potentially exploitative environments in foreign countries, but the profits from their sales provide a funding stream to organized crime.”

Alysa Erichs of United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade (USA-IT) has been fighting this crossover between counterfeiting and criminal gangs for years. She previously served as executive associate director of Federal Homeland Security Investigations.

“Law enforcement has its challenge ahead of them,” Erichs told InsideSources. “They partner with the private sector and e-commerce platforms to be able to identify these bad actors, but criminals are always savvy, and sometimes, when we finally catch up with their means and methods, they come up with a new means and methods for us to figure out.”

Erichs is also outraged that the counterfeit trade is being celebrated in popular culture.

“I think it is irresponsible for anybody to encourage folks to commit the act, which is a violation of someone’s intellectual property. No one in the media should be promoting this type of activity.”

AAFA is using its own media campaign to educate consumers about the actual consequences of shopping for black-market goods. Their #FightFakes campaign features a video explaining both the damage to America’s economy and the danger to the individual shopper.

In addition to exploiting workers, contributing to wage theft, propping up “shoddy factories” and harming the environment around them, AAFA says online transactions may even expose consumers to financial scams through a myriad of ways from fake emails, false advertisements, and fake websites.

If someone is purchasing an item online, which is an option more people have taken advantage of in recent years because of their busy schedules, Erichs recommended they notify the platform of any counterfeit items they received upon purchase. Consumers can also report things to the Better Business Bureau, as it maintains a list of unscrupulous websites that individuals and industry groups have encountered.

It may seem a small thing to do, but Erichs said that if one person does it, then 100 people followed by 1,000 consumers, that is enough of a lead for someone to follow and to have some action taken.

“Every little bit helps,” said Erichs.