inside sources print logo
Get up to date Delaware Valley news in your inbox

Your Cyber Monday Shopping Could Send Cash to Criminal Cartels

Americans shopping online spent nearly $10 billion on Black Friday and are expected to spend a record $12 billion on Cyber Monday. Unfortunately, law enforcement experts say, too much of that holiday cash will go to criminal cartels — the same ones responsible for drug smuggling and smash-and-grab robberies across the U.S.

How? Thanks to the massive amount of illicit, stolen, and counterfeit consumer goods being sold to Americans, mostly via online shopping.

“The harsh reality is Santa is not the only one handing out toys this season,” said Alysa Erichs with United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade (USA-IT). “Black market criminals have exploited the boom in online shopping by misleading consumers into buying stolen and counterfeit goods, many of which threaten the economy and our nation.”

Erichs, a former Acting Executive Associate Director of Homeland Security Investigations, made her remarks at a recent press event featuring members of law enforcement and America’s retail sector. They all had the same message: Shopping for deals online could mean sending money to criminal gangs.

Michael Ball with Homeland Security Investigations told reporters the largest counterfeit bust in U.S. history had just happened two weeks earlier. The Department of Justice announced the “seizures of approximately 219,000 counterfeit bags, clothes, shoes, and other luxury products with a total estimated manufacturer’s suggested retail price (‘MSRP’) of approximately $1.03 billion.”

Ball presented a display of seized counterfeit goods ranging from high-end electronics like iPhones to toys and luxury retail items, including Louis Vitton handbags. One popular item is a hoverboard built with batteries that “tended to burst into flame,” Ball said.

Jennifer Hanks, director of brand protection for the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), also highlighted the dangers consumers face from fake goods.

Authorities recently seized a shipment of children’s sleepwear marked as flame retardant but was not. And she noted a recent study that tested 47 counterfeit products. Of those, 17 were found to have dangerous levels of lead, arsenic, or other substances, she said.

And, Hanks added, counterfeit product and organized retail crime cost real Americans their jobs. The fakers destroyed over 300,000 U.S. jobs in various industries, such as toys, water filters, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and car parts.

“If it can be made, it can be counterfeited,” she said.

Some of those job losses have been felt here in the Keystone State. The Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association is a member of USA-IT, and PMA President and CEO David N. Taylor told DVJournal counterfeits are part of the “ongoing economic warfare” being waged by the Chinese communist government against U.S. businesses and workers.

More than 75 percent of the value of counterfeit and pirated goods seized in the U.S. originate in China and Hong Kong, and online Chinese sellers often rely on Mexican drug cartels to skirt U.S. Customs and import lethal goods like fentanyl and fake pharmaceuticals, according to USA-IT.

“This is something that’s systematically bigger than any one company,” said Taylor. “We need a whole of government response.”

The counterfeiting taking place is “systematic and unrelenting,” Taylor added. “The problem is out of control.”

The impact of organized retail theft is being felt by shoppers in cities like Philadelphia, which has seen stores close across the city over the past two years. In September, The  Wall Street Journal reported retail theft in Philly increased by more than 30 percent compared to a year earlier. Some of the same goods being stolen in smash-and-grab robberies that make the nightly news also make their way to holiday shoppers, often via the internet.

Ball said the organized gangs grabbing armloads are luxury goods and high-end clothes aren’t shopping for their girlfriends. “It’s being resold to criminal organizations to fund organized crime,” he said. “That’s what’s happening.”

“People are being duped to be part of organized crime,” he said. “You’re giving hundreds and thousands of dollars to people who are flooding guns and drugs onto your streets. It’s one of the most foolish things you can possibly think of.”

Ball said counterfeit goods affect the economy and consumers who purchase them.

“It’s crucial that we all remain vigilant about the dangers posed by counterfeit goods,” said Ball. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

DelVal Singles Face Tough Dating Landscape

You are not alone if you are a single person in the Philadelphia area and find dating difficult. The dating landscape has changed over the last decade or so.

For those seeking long-term relationships, the quest has become more challenging than ever.

And the task is tougher in the Philadelphia area than elsewhere. The personal-finance website WalletHub ranked 182 U.S. cities as to their desirability for singles. Factors included the size and percentage of the area’s single population, the types of recreational activities available, and the actual cost of going on a date (a movie and a meal) and dating opportunities. Nearly half of U.S. adults are single, the website said. An average date costs around $90.

Considering all those factors, Philadelphia ranked a hardly inspiring 89th in terms of being a desirable locale for a single person and 109th in available dating opportunities.

In the former category, it fell well behind San Francisco (4th), Minneapolis (6th), Atlanta (10th), and even Pittsburgh (18th).

Kristi Price is a dating consultant and life coach based in Conshohocken. She started KP Matchmaking 15 years ago following a divorce to help others avoid her own dating mistakes.

Price says when she first launched her service, it was common for singles to meet each other through online dating sites. But over time, that medium has evolved, and Price noted not necessarily for the better.

“I think it’s become very transient,” she said. “Many people think there’s always something better around the corner if they’re online dating.”

Price says a significant problem with online dating is the flood of misinformation that confronts those looking for a relationship.

“Fifteen years ago, a lot of people did meet (online) and have relationships and are married,” she said. “But now, it’s such a difficult time, especially after COVID. (Online dating) is more saturated with scammers, people in relationships looking for validation, and those types of obstacles. So, it’s much harder to meet people who want a relationship.

“People are really relationship driven. Online is a tough place to meet a quality individual,” she said.

Karin Sternberg, a lecturer in the psychology department at Cornell University, said, “Online dating gives people access to a much larger pool of potential dates. It is OK to write and have video chats at first. However, I suggest people move their dates to an in-person format sooner rather than later. After all, you are most likely looking for an in-person relationship and not an online relationship. People behave differently in real life than on the screen, and when you meet someone in person, you share actual experiences, which helps you bond and get to know the other person.”

Price describes the online dating landscape as a chaotic mess.

“It’s ridiculous online,” she said. “You get ghosting, and people don’t get back to you. It’s like people have lost the value of humanity and being kind through online dating.”

“It’s about immediate gratification,” she added. “Look at photos instead of trying to get to know a person and get to know who they are.”

Price advocates doing a background check on any potential date, particularly someone you know only through online communication.

“It’s easy to do,” she said. “All you need is a first and last name, and if you know their age and location, you can pretty much figure it out.”

“You can’t just trust people for what they say online. Not only that they are single and want a relationship but also that they are not a criminal.

“So, it’s always important to get information on a (potential date) before you meet them. Even if all you have is a phone number, you can reverse search who they are, if they’re actually saying who they are. Even if I meet with a client, I do this. I do background checks on anyone I work with before I work with them. That’s the easiest way to protect yourself,” she said.

Price admits finding a compatible partner is challenging.

“It’s difficult to meet people who are looking for relationships and are quality individuals, professionals,” she said. “People who are in the same stage of life, looking for mutual relationship goals, and that type of thing.

“They claim they want relationships. They’re out and about and going to bars, which is totally fine, but they’re not really emotionally available. You see that across the country, but I see that a lot in Philadelphia.”

Please follow DVJournal on social media: Twitter@DVJournal or