Counterfeiting consumer products accounts for nearly half a trillion dollars in imports each year, or 2.5% of the world’s total imports (source). It’s an incredibly profitable business which becomes harder to detect every single year. Popular counterfeit consumer goods include:
- Fashion apparel and accessories
These products, frequently referred to as “bootlegs” or “knockoffs” attempt to mislead consumers and profit from the status of an established brand. They pay costs similar to the genuine product price, while counterfeiters reap massive profits from their cheaply made goods.
Consumers aren’t left entirely to their own devices to determine whether products are legitimate. While they are the front line in inspecting and ultimately deciding whether it’s a legitimate purpose, organizations around the world are cracking down on the sale and manufacturing of counterfeit goods.
It should be no surprise that the sale of illegal products benefit other illegal activities. South America and Mexico’s drug cartels frequently work hand-in-hand with counterfeiters for extra income. Street gangs and human traffickers in Asia run production of phony merchandise to pay for weapons, bribes and any number of other needs. The United States has also concluded that the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was carried out using profits from a counterfeit t-shirt business. It’s no longer just in the interest of consumer rights, but national security.
The Department of Homeland Security has carried out many in person and virtual raids against counterfeiting websites. Most notoriously on Cyber Monday in 2010 which led to the shutdown of 82 online retailers in one day. The 2007 bust of one of the largest counterfeiting rings led to $200 million in goods from their New York location alone. In 2011, eight nations most impacted by these criminal actions created the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) to take communal action around the world.
Businesses are taking steps to separate their products from those who wish to copy them. Many notoriously counterfeited items use holographic seals or labels which cannot be replicated . Higher price items may even use UV tags which can only be seen with a blacklight. The most common method is a barcode or verification number which customers can verify online or over the phone. However, counterfeiting operations are getting better everyday. The safest bet will always be following your gut. If it seems shady, walk away.