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Seen At 11: Counterfeit Electronics Can Be Dangerous, Fund Illegal Activity

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Your smartphone, laptop, TV and even dishwasher could all be fakes.

As CBS 2’s Kristine Johnson reported, counterfeit electronics are flooding the market. While the items might be more affordable, they also can be dangerous and their sales could help fund terrorism and gangs.

The phony items are hard to spot. A counterfeit iPhone might have the Apple logo, work like an real iPhone and have the same icons.

“Can you imagine buying an iPhone for $100,” said Stanley Salot, president and CEO of the Center for Counterfeit Avoidance.

But experts warn the devices are so poorly made they stop working almost immediately and — even worse — may contain toxic parts.

“You’re risking high levels of lead, high levels of cadmium, high levels of chlorine,” Salot said.

Valerie Salembier, president and CEO of The Authentics Foundation, said, from fashion to electronics, the counterfeit busines is booming.

“It is not just handbags and wallets that can be faked,” she said.

“Gang members are now selling fake electronics instead of drugs because the margin is so high,” Salembier added. “It supports child labor. It supports terrorism.”

According to the United Nations, groups such as al Qaeda, are partially funded by such counterfeiters.

Salot said counterfeiters mine dumps throughout the world for discarded electronics and use a little bit from each of them, with no safety testing. Many of the devices catch fire — some even explode.

“Houses actually burn down from counterfeit toasters,” Salot said.

U.S. Customs seized more than $20 million in fake electronics last year, but many more end up in the hands of consumers who believe they’re getting the real deal.

Matt Nathanson, who repairs smartphones and laptops, is often the one to break the news to customers that their device is a fake.

“I’m like, ‘This is not an iPhone. You got ripped off,'” he said.

“To the person that doesn’t see this every single day, they can really get you.”

It’s not just consumers who are being duped.

Todd Kramer, CEO of Secure Components, makes sure the electronics being bought by the U.S. military and corporate America are the real deal. He said there’s only one way to be safe: only buy from authorized dealers.

“You need to know who you’re buying from,” Kramer said.

When it comes to buying electronics, experts agree that if the price is too good to be true, it’s more than likely a fake.

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(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)