1. Headline
  1. Headline

Video: Don’t be fooled! Fakes flood trusted sites

  1. Closed captioning of: Don’t be fooled! Fakes flood trusted sites

    >>> back now at 7:43. this morning on rossen reports, the world of counterfeiting. it's scamming americans out of billions of dollars and now there is a new twist. "today's" investigative correspondent jeff rossen is here with the details. good morning.

    >> good morning. we have heard about counterfeit products. it's been going on for years. now the criminals are so sophisticated they are buying real ad space and getting to you on popular and trusted websites we all visit every day. some say the websites are profiting from it. we are on the hunt with u.s. customs and border protection , searching incoming cargo to stop a criminal epidemic before it reaches your home. expertly designed counterfeit products sold as real. and where are unsuspecting americans finding them? on sites like ebay and google where criminals pay big bucks for prime placement.

    >> it doesn't make them as trustworthy as we hold them to be.

    >> reporter: high school senior lauren macmillan wanted to learn spanish so her dad spent $200 on what he thought was a never opened rosetta stone software kit.

    >> the ad said it was brand new and shh ripg wrink wrapped.

    >> reporter: it arrived and looked authentic down the instruction manual , stickers and inscriptions on the disk.

    >> we tried to install it and it had an error message every time.

    >> reporter: it didn't work because it's a fake. authorities say some even install a virus on your computer to steal your personal information. here's a real kit next to the fake one. can you tell the difference?

    >> it's not just some college kid in their basement putting this together. this is a real business going on. somebody's making a lot of money off of it.

    >> reporter: some say it's not just the criminals cashing in. it's the popular sites that allow them to advertise.

    >> looking at this, make you angry?

    >> disgusted. it's costing us millions.

    >> reporter: tom adams is ceo of rosetta stone . they have caught google selling coveted top of the page ad space to over 1600 rogue websites with fake products. you go to google , type rosetta stone in and get a list of websites . on this day the real website and the company says all these fakes offering discounts. click on them and they look like the real thing.

    >> they are essentially picking whatever media we have, photographs.

    >> reporter: even your picture.

    >> yeah, even me.

    >> reporter: that's your picture. if i was an average consumer and i saw your picture, you're the ceo, must be legit.

    >> i think that's what happens.

    >> reporter: he says google isn't doing enough to stop them.

    >> when you complain to google , what's the response?

    >> they are back up shortly thereafter. google takes them down but it's a game of what cck-a-mole. the pirates have many accounts.

    >> reporter: and google does business with them again.

    >> yes.

    >> reporter: in fact, google has been caught doing business with criminals before. last summer the company paid $500 million to avoid prosecution for knowingly selling ads to illegal online pharmacies. google declined our request for on-camera interview but told us, we take responsibility for our actions and google does not allow ads for any counterfeit goods . we use a combination of manual and automated processes to enforce this policy. in 2011 we shut down approximately 95,000 advertisers for counterfeit goods . but rosetta stone said it is not working.

    >> this is the fake product sent to us by consumers.

    >> reporter: they keep hearing from angry customers and had to hire their own investigators to scan for counterfeits.

    >> here's a fake product on ebay. it has 28 bids up to $242.

    >> it looks real.

    >> reporter: also frustrating for law enforcement who admit they can't keep up with the flood of fakes.

    >> it's increasing every year. we have had a 24% increase from last year.

    >> it's a cat and mouse game.

    >> yes.

    >> reporter: part of the problem, many of the criminals are based in china, out of reach for u.s. authorities. that's where lauren 's kit came from. after complaining, ebay gave her a refund.

    >> something needs to be done about this. people need to be aware this is going on on the internet. there needs to be a stop to it.

    >> reporter: ? in a statement, ebay said counterfeits are not welcome. it said it is a leader in working in combatting counterfeits. as for the fake rosetta stone lauren bought they took the ad down just the day after it was posted. here's the takeaway. if you see new products at steep discounts that's a red flag . just because the site has prime placement on a site like google doesn't mean it's real.

    >> if you have a counterfeit good what do you do?

    >> if you bought it on a site like ebay where you buy it from them, tell ebay. you can get a refund hopefully like lauren did. if you find the fake website on google , for example. it's just a search engine. you probably won't get a refund. that money is probably gone.

    >> maybe your report will change things.

    >> i hope so.

    >> still ahead, young girls opening

By
TODAY
updated 2/24/2012 7:30:54 AM ET 2012-02-24T12:30:54

The underground world of counterfeiting scams Americans out of billions of dollars. Now there’s a new twist deceiving consumers. TODAY National Investigative Correspondent Jeff Rossen reports.

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. This 4-year-old's love letter to school crush is the cutest thing ever

      What lady wouldn’t be won over with compliments and promises of fine dining and magic tricks?

    2. Snuggle buddies! Baby girl, baby sloth cozy up for maximum cuteness
    3. Traveling for Thanksgiving? Leave now.
    4. 16 adorable 'Movember' babies show off their 'staches
    5. Congrats, Jimmy! Fallon gets his name in lights on new 30 Rock marquee

It’s been going on for decades: Counterfeiting of everything from electronics to software. But now the criminals have become so sophisticated that they’re buying real ad space and selling to you on popular and trusted websites we visit every day. And some say those websites are profiting from it.

Have an idea for Rossen Reports? Email us by clicking here!

We went on the hunt with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, searching incoming cargo to stop a criminal epidemic before it reaches your home: expertly designed counterfeit products sold as real. And where are Americans finding them? On top sites like eBay and on Google, where criminals pay big bucks for prime placement.

Real business
High school senior Lauren McMillen just wanted to learn Spanish. So her dad went on eBay and spent $200 on what he thought was a never-opened Rosetta Stone software kit. "The ad said it was brand new and shrink-wrapped," Brian McMillen said. "Seemed absolutely legit."

It arrived and it looked legit, down to the instruction manual, stickers, even inscriptions on the disks. But, Brian said, "We tried to install it, and it kept popping up an error message every time you started the product."

It didn't work because it's a fake. Authorities say some even install viruses on your computer to steal your personal information. "It's not just some college kid in their basement putting this together," Lauren McMillen said. "This is a real business going on, and somebody is making a lot of money off of it."

Video: Rossen Reports: Loopholes make it easy to buy deadly weapons

And some say it's not just the ciminals cashing in; it's the popular sites that allow them to advertise. Tom Adams, the CEO of Rosetta Stone, said they've caught Google selling coveted top-of-the-page ad space to more than 1,600 rogue websites peddling fake Rosetta Stone.

Here's how it works: You go to Google and type "Rosetta Stone" into the search bar and you get a list of websites — the real one and, on the day the company showed us, many fakes offering discounts. Click on them and they look legit.

"They're essentially scraping our site, taking whatever media that we have, photographs, text, descriptions of our method," said a "disgusted" Tom Adams. Even his own picture was appropriated by counterfeiters. And he said Google isn't doing enough to stop them.

Read more investigative journalism from Rossen Reports

Whack-a-mole
"When you complain to Google and say, 'Get these ads down,' what's the response?" I asked him.

"They're back up very shortly thereafter," Adams said, "because although Google takes them down, it's a game of whack-a-mole. These pirates have multiple accounts they're able to operate with.

"And Google will do business with them again," he added.

In fact, the Justice Department has caught Google doing business with criminals before.  Last summer, the company paid $500 million to avoid prosecution on charges that it knowingly sold ads to illegal online pharmacies. Google declined our request for an on-camera interview, but in a statement told us "We take responsibility for our actions," and "Google does not allow ads for ... any counterfeit goods. We use a combination of manual and automated processes to enforce this policy. We are constantly working to improve our practices and tune our systems. In 2011, we shut down approximately 95,000 advertisers for ... counterfeit goods."

But Rosetta Stone said it's not working. They keep hearing from angry consumers, and had to hire their own investigators to scan for counterfeits. One of them, Jason Calhoun, showed us a fake Rosetta Stone product for sale on eBay. "It's got 28 bids and it's up to $242," he said.

  1. More Rossen Reports
    1. Rossen Reports: Kids can sleep through smoke alarms, experts say
      TODAY
    2. Rossen Reports: Are child safety caps enough to keep kids out?
    3. Hotel chains devalue loyalty rewards points
    4. Rossen Reports: Potentially dangerous cars for sale
    5. How to check whether your vehicle has an unfixed safety recall

It's also frustrating for law enforcement, who admit they can't keep up with the flood of fakes. "It's increasing every year," said Roland Suliveras, a port director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. "It's increasing every year. We've had a 24 percent increase from last year."

Part of the problem: Many of these criminals are based in China — out of reach for U.S. authorities. That's where Lauren McMillen's kit came from. After she complained, eBay ultimately gave her a refund.

"Something needs to be done about this," Lauren said. "People need to be aware that this is going on, on the Internet, and there needs to be a stop to it."

In a statement, eBay told us it has more than 300 million listings, and counterfeits are not welcome on its sites. It's a leader in partnering with law enforcement and brand owners in combating the sale of fakes, and it took down the ad that Lauren responded to the day after it was posted.

Here's the takeaway: If you see brand-new products for sale at steep discounts, that could be a red flag. And just because it has prime placement in a search, and looks real, doesn't mean it is.

To read statements from eBay and Google in response to this report, click here .

Have an idea for a future edition of Rossen Reports? We want to hear from you! To send us your ideas, click here.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Caters News Agency

    Snuggle buddies! Baby girl, baby sloth cozy up for maximum cuteness

    11/25/2014 10:18:17 PM +00:00 2014-11-25T22:18:17
  1. Jennifer Skinner

    This 4-year-old's love letter to school crush is the cutest thing ever

    11/25/2014 6:50:23 PM +00:00 2014-11-25T18:50:23
  1. Traveling for Thanksgiving? Leave now.

    11/25/2014 5:49:26 PM +00:00 2014-11-25T17:49:26
  1. 9News

    Mom dies during childbirth to save 'miracle' baby's life

    11/25/2014 3:32:54 PM +00:00 2014-11-25T15:32:54
Exclusive
  1. Angelina Jolie reveals how marriage has changed life with Brad Pitt

    11/25/2014 2:00:39 PM +00:00 2014-11-25T14:00:39