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Don’t risk your skin with counterfeit laundry detergent

Here’s a quick tip: if someone tries to sell you a 5-gallon bucket of Tide, Downy, or Gain laundry detergent at a great price, walk away. You might come across such “deals” at swap meets, fundraisers, or on the internet, but they’re fake. Procter & Gamble, the company that produces those three brands, does not sell them in this size, and is actively pursuing counterfeiters who do, according to ABC News.

Apparently, selling counterfeit laundry detergent is a booming business. In 2015, Procter & Gamble identified nearly 50 factories producing fake laundry soap — part of what is estimated as a $500 billion annual counterfeiting business. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department recently raided multiple locations and found more than 400 5-gallon buckets of counterfeit laundry detergent for sale.

Related: More kids are coming in contact with potentially harmful detergent pods

The concern isn’t just that a huge consumer goods corporation is losing business, although that’s a very big deal. The lost business has to be factored into pricing which means everyone pays more for the real thing. Even more concerning is that the contents, quality, and safety of counterfeit laundry detergent are essentially unknown without lab testing. Procter & Gamble tests seized samples of counterfeit detergent to determine that they really are fake, but that doesn’t protect anyone who buys ersatz soap.

“Without sounding too scary, the risks are quite large because we just don’t know. It would be like putting your family in a car that you have no idea where it came from,” said Procter & Gamble senior scientist Jack English.

According to Lt. Geoffrey Deedrick of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Office of Counterfeit and Piracy Team, the risk to the sellers is a factor in rising sales. “These guys are driving around with van loads of this stuff every day like it’s nothing,” Deedrick said. “If you made just as much money selling counterfeit Tide as heroin, what would you choose? The Tide.”

“We started seeing this really escalate starting about a year ago,” said Procter & Gamble spokeswoman Anne Candido, speaking of counterfeit laundry detergent sales. “It’s showing up all over the place and the social media is the enabler.”