You may think buying a knock-off purse, phone charger or pair of shoes is a victimless crime, but a fraud and anti-counterfeiting conference in North York is hearing that proceeds from the sale of counterfeit items fund criminal activity and terrorism.

Lorne Lipkus, a lawyer who deals with anti-counterfeiting enforcement, says counterfeit items may be made with child labour where criminals avoid paying taxes and following health and safety regulations. “They are taking the proceeds and the profits and they are turning that into weapons, into guns, into these clandestine illegal activities,” Lipkus said.

Anti-counterfeiting lawyer Lorne Lipkus says counterfeit items may be made using child labour. (CTV News Toronto)

Fraud and anti-counterfeiting officials from around the world say it’s getting harder to stem the flow of counterfeit products.

Consumers are being put at risk buying knock off toys, medications and auto parts.

Knock off goods will be of poorer quality and may contain harmful chemicals. Electrical items and consumer goods could be a fire risk. There are also health issues with counterfeit medications and counterfeit e-cigarettes and vaping products that are not approved for sale in Canada.

Detective Rob Whalen with Toronto Police says that using counterfeit vaping products can be extremely harmful.

“If you purchase vaping products or e-cigarettes from an illegitimate source you don’t know what’s in it. We found some illegal products that contained radiator fluid and these are things that you are ingesting into your body,” Whalen said .

Toronto Police Detective Rob Whalen warns that counterfeit products could be harmful to your health. (CTV News Toronto)

Criminals are always branching out into new areas to exploit. Organized crime has been involved in the pirating of movies and TV shows, now criminals are also hijacking signals for live sporting events.

John Anderson is the Chairman of the Global Anti-Counterfeiting Group. He says that when criminals download live sporting events it costs legitimate companies revenue. “In the UK it’s Premier League Soccer. Here in Canada it can be hockey. There is a huge business in illegal streaming,” Anderson said .

Signs a product is counterfeit may be pricing that's too good to be true or buying from questionable sources. You should check packaging and certification logos carefully and to avoid fake goods only shop at reputable stores and websites.

Another area of concern is data breaches and identity theft as criminals are also behind ransomware, cyber-attacks and the hacking of bank accounts targeting both businesses and individuals.