(WHTM) — Lots of people are scrambling to wrap up holiday shopping this week. But in that mad dash to grab those last-minute items, make sure you’re buying the real deal.

“Counterfeit goods are a huge problem and a real threat to consumers’ health and safety,” Frank Cullen, Vice President of U.S. Policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said.

About $500 billion is lost each year worldwide due to counterfeit products, on top of the hundreds of thousands of jobs that are lost. Cullen says consumers need to be vigilant, more than half say they believe something they’ve bought this year is fake.

“Counterfeits go across every kind of product line — toys, electronics, luxury goods — if a product is popular somebody’s going to try to copy it and rip a consumer off..so consumers really have to be aware of the threat of counterfeits,” Cullen said.

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You may be thinking what’s the big deal? Nobody is getting hurt.

Along with the economic impact, counterfeits can be harmful to you. For example, fake cosmetics can contain arsenic, mercury or lead. And knock-off batteries can cause fires.

“It’s not a victimless crime. It may be made with shoddy materials, it may have dyes that can cause irritation to the skin and of course it could be produced by child labor or any type of forced labor — and may support criminal networks,” Cullen said.

The pandemic has only increased this problem and now the supply chain issues are making things even worse. People can’t find things in stores and are going online and buying fakes.

“Very often consumers are unwittingly buying something. The counterfeiters and criminals are smart they’re going to try to fool the consumers, so it’s really important consumers educate themselves,” Cullen said.

There are ways to protect yourself from buying fakes.

“One of those things of course is to trust your instincts — if something seems too good to be true, it most likely is,” Cullen said.

Other tips include:

  • Watching for missing charges. Criminals don’t report their sales to financial authorities, you may be able to spot that in the final price.
  • Insist on secure transactions.
  • Guard your personal information.
  • Take a close look at labels, packaging and contents. Check for things like expired dates, broken or non-existent safety seals, false warranty information and misspellings.

For more information on counterfeit goods and how to report them, click here.