WASHINGTON - The holiday shopping frenzy is well underway and more people these days are shopping online. But in the hustle and bustle of online shopping, it's possible you may be doing business with criminals and not even know it.
This month, Homeland Security officers rounded up thousands of dollars' worth of counterfeit goods -- items consumers tried to buy in an attempt to get a good deal.
Consumers are falling victim to criminals online selling these counterfeit goods -- everything from cords that are substandard to athletic shoes, perfume, denim jeans, luxury bags, sports jerseys and even hats.
And you may not just be buying counterfeit products. The companies you buy from could end up stealing your identity and your credit information.
So how can you protect yourself? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world's largest business organization, says look closely before you buy.
"The challenge is even we have trouble distinguishing between fake and real products," said David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the Global Intellectual Property Center for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "One of the few ways you can [distinguish this] is sometimes the fake item does look really better because they are more likely to invest in packaging and ways to get it to you and certainly not use recycled products.
"So one of the things we tell people is know who you are doing business with, make sure you're doing it with a reputable organization, have the same degree of skepticism when you're shopping online that you would have if you were shopping in the physical marketplace."
The Global Intellectual Property Center has released important tips on ways to protect yourself from dangerous fakes.
1. Trust your instincts
2. Avoid the impossible
3. Be particularly careful purchasing medicine online
4. Watch for missing sales tax charges
5. Insist on secure transactions
6. Seek quality assurance in the secondary market
7. Be vigilant when buying abroad
8. Scrutinize labels, packaging and contents
9. Report questionable spam and faulty products
10. Spread the word about the danger of fake products
According to reports, 96 percent of online pharmacies don't meet safety or legal standards.
"If you're buying from a website that offers you free prescriptions without the need of actually going to a doctor or the doctor who issued the prescription is available only by filling out a quick form, you should be skeptical," said Hirschmann.
He said the U.S. government has caught individuals who are accused of selling $78 million in counterfeit medicines, including cancer treatments to people online.