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Counterfeit holiday lights seized

Customs officials say two shipments from China, with an estimated retail value of $173,000, are unsafe.

December 13, 2011|By Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times

U.S. Customs officials said Monday that they caught someone trying to import counterfeit and unsafe lighting fixtures depicting Santa Claus and Frosty the Snowman.

The holiday decorations were seized at the Los Angeles/Long Beach seaport complex between Nov. 23 and 25 in two shipments from China and had an estimated retail value of $173,000.

The lighting displays had phony Underwriters Laboratories product safety certification labels and had not undergone the rigorous scrutiny required by the organization. As a result, federal authorities said, the displays were potentially dangerous.

Consumers who use the products face potential injury, such as burns or electrical shock, said Jaime Ruiz, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection.

"It's critical for the public to be aware, especially around the holiday season, that there are a lot of fake, untested products that can pose a significant risk," Ruiz said. "In the case of the Christmas lights, you have children around. Once you connect that electrical adapter, you don't really know what's going to happen since those devices were not tested for safety."

Ruiz said the lesson for consumers is to stick with legitimate retailers and avoid surplus stores, swap meets or extremely cheap merchandise on the Internet.

"Most of the time, it's fake," Ruiz said.

The dangers posed by the holiday light shipments were identified by the Import Safety Commercial Targeting and Analysis Center in Washington, D.C., as part of a joint operation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Ruiz said.

Federal officials said electric items presenting potential safety or security risks represented 19% of all commodities seized by Customs and Border Protection in fiscal year 2010. Those products had a total estimated value of $7.9 million, Ruiz said.

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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