Social media deals often feature counterfeit items

(WMC) - Don't trust everything you see online, because plenty of people are trying to take your hard-earned money.

A recent study looked at 150,000 Instagram posts using the five most popular fashion hashtags: #LouisVuitton, #Chanel, #Fendi, #Gucci, #Prada.

The study found that nearly 20 percent of the posts featured counterfeit items!

"Unfortunately, counterfeits have proliferated via social media as well as the third party marketplaces, and it's something that we're very, very aware of," Homeland Security Investigations Assistant Director Bruce Foucart said.

Foucart said trying to enforce the law on social media is like playing whack-a-mole: when you shut down one bogus account, more spring up.

In fact, the Instagram study uncovered that Instagram counterfeit kings are using sophisticated bots to run multiple accounts at the same time.

You may think buying a counterfeit item isn't the worst thing that could happen to you, especially if you don't spend too much money on it. But the reality is your money is going to more than just one person breaking the law to try and put food on the table for their family.

"We've seen criminal organizations that are selling counterfeit goods that are invested in gun running, forced child labor," Foucart said. "Counterfeiting can go to finance and fund terrorist activity."

Instagram responded to the study by saying that it responds to reports of counterfeit content sometimes within hours and proactively fights back with "sophisticated spam detection and blocking systems."

Still, counterfeiters are constantly fighting to stay ahead of detection. They're doing things like embedding information in images or using instant message apps to gather contacts.

If you can't verify a phone number, skip the sale. If a piece looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Also, some key words to look for in counterfeit posts are "original," "replica," and "cheap."

Plus, be weary if the seller is using stock photographs (unless you are 100 percent sure you're buying from a legitimate retailer).

Federal investigations said they also want consumers to be especially careful when buying items that could pose health or safety concerns, such as skincare products, pharmaceuticals, electronics, and car parts.

Copyright 2016 WMC Action News 5 and Consumer Reports. All rights reserved.