Homeland Security and anti-counterfeiting groups are cracking down on counterfeit goods that steal the hard-won goodwill of legitimate band names. But for the first time these crusaders have decided to target the consumer. If they have their way, consumers who knowingly buy counterfeit goods could face fines or even jail time.
A $650 billion industry
Knock-off counterfeit merchandise, like fake Prada shoes, Gucci bags and Rolex watches, routinely flood flea markets and bargain outlets across the nation. In recent years, so-called rogue websites have popped up, ballooning the illegal industry into one that, according to Daily Finance, rakes in $650 billion a year globally.
These rogue sites, themselves counterfeits, look like the real thing and are very difficult to trace. When one is closed down, another pops up immediately; a phenomenon that Kristina Montanaro, of the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition, likens to the arcade game “Whac-a-Mole.”
In her recent seminar entitled “Beyond Whac-a-Mole: New Initiatives in Intellectual Property Enforcement,” Montanaro discussed some of the new ways being used to track down and stop counterfeiters. For one such measure, the group is working with credit card issuers and processors to block rogue sites, once detected, from being able to run credit cards.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is making a sweep of the nation’s flea markets in search of knock-off goods. The probe has led to a series of raids, during which agents have seized fake merchandise worth millions. According to the Department of Homeland Security, nearly 70 percent of all brand-name merchandise being sold at these outlets were pirated knock-offs.
In an effort to educate consumers to the seriousness of knowingly buying cheap brand-name clones, the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition has launched a website called DesignsFauxReal.com. The tongue-in-cheek site looks like a knock-off rogue site, but couples its images of alluring merchandise with slogans like, “The timeless gift of credit card fraud,” and “Free identity theft with every purchase.”
Montanaro said that consumers purchasing from these sites are taking a great personal risk:
“A lot of people don’t realize, you’re handing your card information over to hardened criminals, so you’re at the risk of identity theft.”
A criminal offense
But other anti-piracy crusaders want to take it even further. In Italy and France, buying counterfeit merchandise is a punishable crime. Some would like to see that happen in the U.S. as well. New York City Councilwoman Margaret Chin has proposed legislation in her city to make the purchase of fake brand items a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by fines of up to $1,000 or up to a year behind bars.
“The bottom line is counterfeiters have to sell to do their job, and we need a law in place that punishes buyers for supporting this illegal trade.”
If the New York City bill passes into law, it can only be a matter of time before other cities draft similar bills.