This is the time of year when New Jersey is being flooded with counterfeit merchandise from other countries, principally through the Port of New York and New Jersey.

Brian Michael, special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the message to consumers is buyer beware.

“If you’re purchasing things, whether it’s at a store, a flea market or online, and the cost is too good to be true, then it’s probably a counterfeit," he said.

He said if you wind up with a counterfeit item then you’re taking a risk of not only breaking the law and potentially being arrested, “but of potentially harming yourself or your children with plugging something into a wall that’s going to become a fire hazard, or giving your child a cheap knock-off toy. The parts are going to fall off and they’re going to end up choking on them.”

During a news conference Monday at a warehouse in Kearney, he said counterfeit items are being sold all over the place these days.

“It’s online, both on the regular Internet as well as the dark net. You’ll find the items in flea markets, you’ll find the items sometimes when someone sets up a little roadside stand and begins to sell the items out of the back of a van," he said.

If you get an email offering you great deals on in-demand merchandise, how do you know if it’s legit?

“You can look at the actual address it’s coming from and if it’s coming back to say, like a Russian or Chinese address, that would be a clue," Michael said.

He also said legitimate businesses should have customer service telephone numbers listed that you are able to call, and if the website you visit doesn’t offer this it may not be on the level.

So how big of a problem is this?

Michael said millions of dollars worth of counterfeit goods is seized across the country during the holiday season and Newark is a major port, “so we see the actual importations of goods on a massage scale of counterfeit goods that come in by the container-load.”

He said once items arrive here they are distributed across the region to a variety of different sites and stores that will sell them.

Adele Fasano, port director for the Port of New York and New Jersey with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said in fiscal year 2018 there have been more than 2,900 seizures of counterfeit merchandise.

She said buying counterfeit merchandise is illegal and also “it can include loss of American jobs, support of criminal activity and significant risks to consumer health and safety.”

She said when doing your holiday shopping this year, “please make sure you purchase all your products from reputable sources.”

She said when counterfeit goods are intercepted, they are destroyed.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.