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Special report: Ferreting out fakes

Special report: Ferreting out fakes

Counterfeit wristwatches and handbags used to be restricted to back alleys. But these products are now swamping the Internet on a massive scale.

June 20, 2010 11:38 by

Without a doubt the explosion in e-marketing has facilitated the growth in fakery. Taylor says, “The Internet has made the ability to move fake or diverted goods more seamless. It makes it much more difficult to police; there’s no brick and mortar facility to monitor.”

Not only does buying over the Internet prohibit hands-on inspection, but the identity of the seller is often masked. There are, according to Frederick Mostert, chairman of the Authentics Foundation, more than 205 million Internet sites. On his blog he writes, “According to the Annual European Anti-Counterfeit report… 80 percent of counterfeit goods were purchased online in 2008.” (I wish he’d give my daughter a call.) Despite some successful lawsuits against eBay and Google, those sites (unwittingly) provide ample opportunity for counterfeiters to reach a global audience. The proliferation of Internet sales and auctions is virtually unregulated.

While the distribution of fake goods reaches all corners of the globe, with fake vodka (spiked with potentially deadly methanol) coursing from Eastern Europe to the U.K. and fake pesticides finding their way to Ghana, O’Neill confirms that the epicenter of the counterfeit trade is in China.

Caroline Joiner, head of the Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center, was quoted in a Gotham Gazette piece estimating that one quarter of China’s non-farm workforce is hard at work turning out fakes. The country badly needs to find jobs for the vast hordes of workers who each year migrate to its overburdened cities. The push to put these laborers to work appears to outweigh China’s urge to comply with world trade agreements. Authorities, after all, need go no further than Beijing’s Silk Market to find vendors hawking fake Polo shirts, Prada handbags, Calloway golf clubs, Cartier wristwatches, and Louis Vuitton suitcases. Although some make a pretense of avoiding scrutiny by conducting business in stairwells or alleyways, they seem to operate with the acquiescence (if not protection) of the police force.

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