It's the most wonderful time of the year for scam artists hoping to take advantage of busy holiday shoppers. Federal officials are asking consumers to be wary of scams designed to dupe them into buying counterfeit products.

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While browsing at a well-known brick-and-mortar establishment, a shopper can be confident that any products on the shelves are legitimate. That certainty, however, goes out the window when the shopping takes place on a street corner or over the Internet.

"If your gut's telling you what you're looking at probably is a counterfeit item, you should stay away from that," said Peter Fox, deputy special agent in charge with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Newark.

Last year alone, HSI and U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized over $1 billion worth of counterfeit merchandise, 72 percent of which originated in China. Women's handbags have been seized more than any other fake item, according to Fox.

Other heavily-counterfeited items include headphones, sports jerseys, personal care products, shoes, toys and cellphones.

A number of websites have been established to inform consumers on how to determine whether a product is real or fake.

When shopping online, buyers are advised to check for misspellings on lesser-known sites. Also, certain major brands only sell their products through their own sites, meaning if they pop up anywhere else, it's a safe bet to assume those products are fake.

Fox said the purchase of counterfeit items doesn't only hurt the buyer; it damages the economy and potentially fuels criminal networks behind the scams.