Beware of fake contact lenses this Halloween

A woman puts on red contact lenses at a Halloween event in Kawasaki, near Tokyo, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012.(AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – As many people add the final details to their Halloween costumes this week, 10 On Your Side wants you to know about one detail that can be dangerous: using colored or special effects contact lenses.

With a prescription, they’re typically not a problem. But the lenses can be bought online and in stores without ever seeing a doctor or obtaining a prescription.

That’s not only dangerous, it’s also illegal.

At Novelties Unlimited in Norfolk, you can deck out your costume with masks, wigs, makeup, and even fake blood. But look around, and you won’t find decorative contact lenses on the shelves.

Betty Herman has been running Novelties Unlimited for 35 years. She says leading up to Halloween, people come in looking for cheap, decorative lenses they can buy quickly, without visiting the doctor.

“We try to warn the people that when you do order them from someplace like that, you take the risk of ruining your eyes and causing problems,” she says.

Buyers risk their eyes, and sellers risk fines and federal jail time. Selling contact lenses without a prescription is technically counterfeiting, which means the Department of Homeland Security is all over it.

“We’ve really cracked down,” says Michael Lamonea, an assistant special agent in charge with Homeland Security Investigations. ”There are about 20,000 pairs of counterfeit contact lenses that have been seized over the last year.”

The crackdown is called Operation Double Vision, and going after sellers is only one part of it.

“I think the education is a huge component of this,” Lamonea says. “The bottom line is, people should not be buying contact lenses without a prescription. We’ve seen reports of everything from infections to scratched corneas to blindness.”

At Novelties Unlimited, Herman does her part to educate customers as well, telling people looking for contacts to visit a local optometrist and get the real thing.

“We want to be able to stand behind what we sell,” she says. “I don’t see how we could stand behind those.”

If you see counterfeit lenses for sale, call the Department of Homeland Security tipline at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.

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