NICB, NHTSA offer consumers advice to protect themselves from airbag fraud
PHILADELPHIA – Federal authorities arrested a suspect today following a years-long investigation of counterfeit vehicle airbag inflators that included seizures by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers in 2019.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania is charging Emiliano Rodriguez, 44, a citizen of the Dominican Republic residing in Philadelphia, PA, with trafficking in counterfeit goods, and causing the delivery of hazardous materials by air carrier. The indictment caps an investigation and arrest by special agents from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Criminal charges are merely allegations. Defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.
CBP officers discovered 12 airbag gas inflators in an international air parcel that arrived from Hong Kong to Philadelphia on September 12, 2019. Due to the poor packaging and quality of the shipment, CBP officers detained the airbag inflators as possible counterfeits and turned them over to HSI agents. HSI agents initiated an investigation.
“A vehicle’s airbag is an essential car safety feature and counterfeit airbags pose an invisible threat to a vehicle’s occupants,” said Joseph Martella, Area Port Director for CBP’s Area Port of Philadelphia. “Protecting the health and safety of the American consumer is a top priority for Customs and Border Protection, and CBP officers will continue to work closely with our law enforcement and consumer safety partners to intercept counterfeit and potentially dangerous consumer products.”
Airbag inflators use an immense gas explosion to immediately deploy vehicle airbags when sensors detect a collision. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), counterfeit air bags have been shown to consistently malfunction in ways that range from non-deployment to unexpected deployment to the expulsion of metal shrapnel during deployment.
Airbag fraud remains a concern for vehicle and consumer safety organizations. Individuals and collision repair shops commit airbag fraud when they replace deployed airbags with counterfeit airbags that are deeply discounted and purchased through non-certified online vendors. Consumers have options to protect themselves when purchasing used vehicles.
Additionally, NHTSA offers advice on airbags use, lists airbag recall information, and describes the threat posed by counterfeit airbags. According to NHTSA, the following consumers may be at risk of owning a vehicle with a counterfeit air bag:
- Consumers who have had air bags replaced at a repair shop that is not a new car dealer franchised to perform the repair;
- Consumers who have purchased a used car that may have sustained an air bag deployment before their purchase;
- Consumers who own a car with a salvage title; and
- Consumers who have purchased replacement airbags from eBay or other non-certified sources—especially if they were purchased at unusually low prices (i.e. less than $400)
Concerned consumers can learn more about airbags at https://www.nhtsa.gov/equipment/air-bags, or by contacting a local certified automotive dealer to have their vehicle inspected.
Intercepting counterfeit consumer goods at our nation’s ports of entry remains a CBP trade enforcement priority. During Fiscal Year 2020, CBP reported 26,503 counterfeit goods seizures worth an estimated manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of over $1.3 billion, in the goods were authentic. That comes out to about $3.6 million in counterfeit goods seizures every day. Read CBP’s Intellectual Property Seizure Report for more Fiscal Year 2020 IPR stats and analysis.
CBP's border security mission is led at ports of entry by CBP officers from the Office of Field Operations. CBP officers screen international travelers and cargo and search for illicit narcotics, unreported currency, weapons, counterfeit consumer goods, prohibited agriculture, and other illicit products that could potentially harm the American public, U.S. businesses, and our nation’s safety and economic vitality. See what CBP accomplished during a typical day in 2021.
Follow the Director of CBP’s Baltimore Field Office on Twitter at @DFOBaltimore for breaking news, current events, human interest stories and photos, and CBP’s Office of Field Operations on Instagram at @cbpfieldops.