Why U.S. border agents seized $500,000 worth of toy planes

The toys were stopped coming in through International Falls.

36,000 airplanes almost made it into Minnesota last week. 

But Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents in International Falls stopped the rail car that was carrying them because the toy planes were illegal. 

A statement from CBP says the makers of the toys were violating trademark laws – sending "counterfeit" toys into the U.S. that would have sold for $575,000 if they hadn't been caught. 

Seizing the toys was part of an ongoing fight to protect American products that are trademarked or copyrighted from unlicensed counterfeits, the agency says.

What's the danger?

You might not think of unlicensed toys as a threat to the country. But the port director at International Falls, Tony Jackson, says in the release the illicit trade hurts in a few ways:

– It hurts the economy by undercutting legitimate American goods that have trademarks or copyrights.

– It brings products into the country that have not passed health and safety standards.

– And the money that's made off these goods often pays for criminal activity or organized crime, CBP says.

The International Falls case

CBP spokesman Jason Givens told GoMN the toys seized at International Falls were coming from China, which is the origin of more than half the counterfeit goods arriving at U.S. borders. 

Givens says the Trade Secrets Act prevents the agency from talking specifically about what trademark the toys violated. He says counterfeiters usually make a profit by spoofing the hottest products as soon as they're available on the market.

"Each time someone buys a counterfeit good, a legitimate company loses revenue. This translates to lost profits and U.S. jobs over time," Givens says.

Seizures going up

The amount of stuff getting confiscated by border agents climbed 9 percent in 2016, according to CBP

Givens tells GoMN on a typical day in fiscal year 2016, the agency seized $3.8 million worth of products that violated intellectual property rights. 

In terms of what counterfeit goods are getting confiscated, toys are pretty low on the list. 

Clothes are the biggest item, CBP says, with bogus Super Bowl goods being a big one too. Apparel is followed by consumer electronics, shoes, jewelry or watches, and handbags or wallets. Those items together combined for about 70 percent of the confiscated items. 

The people behind this trademark or copyright infringement can face criminal charges. That's handled by Immigration and Customs Enforcement or by Homeland Security. CBP says last year there were 451 arrests and 272 convictions. 

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