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October 16, 2015Washington, DC, United StatesIntellectual Property Rights and Commercial Fraud

ICE highlights dangers of illegal decorative contact lenses

WASHINGTON – Officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have announced a consumer warning ahead of Halloween about the dangers of counterfeit and unapproved decorative contact lenses after key developments in ongoing investigations targeting the unsafe items. 

Decorative contact lenses purchased at holiday stores, convenience stores, novelty stores, flea markets, street vendors or online without an examination from a licensed eye doctor or a valid prescription may be counterfeit, potentially harmful and should be avoided. Any individual who experiences eye redness, prolonged eye pain or any decrease in vision after wearing decorative contact lenses should immediately notify a doctor.

ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations  and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have combined enforcement actions to execute Operation Double Vision, an ongoing effort to target the illegal importation and distribution of counterfeit contact lenses and unapproved decorative lenses that can cause eye infections, conjunctivitis and impaired vision. The operation, which is coordinated through the HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), has resulted in the seizure of over 20,000 pairs of counterfeit and decorative contact lenses.

“Halloween is a major holiday in which criminal elements take the opportunity to exploit consumers without any regard for their health and safety,” said IPR Center Director Bruce Foucart. “We will continue to develop operations and pursue investigations into the illegal trafficking of hazardous counterfeit contact lenses that can have long-term physical effects, lead to expensive medical bills and restrict individuals to intense rehabilitation programs.”

Contact lenses are considered medical devices, and all types are regulated by the FDA. The agency recommends purchasing all forms of contact lenses from a licensed provider who requires a prescription. If a retailer or online marketplace fails to request proper documentation from the prescribed doctor, they are breaking federal law and could be selling illegal contact lenses.

National studies conducted for optometrists have revealed that 11 percent of consumers have worn decorative contact lenses and a majority of those individuals purchased them without a prescription. Furthermore, 59 percent of people using disposable contact lenses wear them for longer than recommended.

“Proper fitting and lens care instruction are essential,” said Georgia Optometric Association President Dr. Judson Briggs. “I have never seen an eye exam or witnessed a contact lens training session conducted at a flea market or gas station. You only get one set of eyes, so don’t put them at risk by using contact lenses sold or purchased illegally.”

The IPR Center is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. Working in close coordination with the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 23-member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to intellectual property theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public's health and safety and the U.S. economy.