The loss to U.S. business from the counterfeiting of trademarked consumer products is estimated at $200 billion a year according to the Department of Commerce. Counterfeit goods include auto parts, aircraft parts, baby formula, apparel, purses, jewelry, shampoo, cosmetics, sunglasses, software, birth control pills, medical devices, consumer drugs and medicines, food products. . . and more. Most counterfeit or “replica” products are substandard in quality. Use of counterfeit products has caused problems for consumers ranging from unwanted pregnancies and hair loss, to ulcers and skin problems. Counterfeit sunglasses, apparel and toys often present other hazards involving ultraviolet protection, lack of fire retardant, and unsafe design. Replica auto and aircraft parts have caused deaths. Organized crime and terrorist groups are often involved in these criminal enterprises. The F.B.I believes the New York Trade Center Bombing was financed by counterfeit T-shirts and sports apparel; and product counterfeiting frequently plays a part in the laundering of drug money. Many drug dealers also deal in knock-offs.
Techniques include attending large conventions to make purchases of the counterfeit products for evidence. We also walk the streets of Los Angeles and other areas where major counterfeiters distribute their goods and use hidden video equipment to document purchases of our findings, then bag and tag the evidence.
In most cases, first-time counterfeiters are given one chance to cooperate before being prosecuted. In these cases, we serve cease & desist notices and request voluntary surrender of the counterfeit goods. We then monitor the vendor through Surveillance to insure the activity does not continue.
When a low key approach doesn’t work, or in cases involving distributors, large quantity dealers, or unethical trade centers which sanction such sales on their property, we work with law enforcement to handle the problem. We have attended raids by federal agencies such as U.S. Customs, and have had the opportunity to work with the FBI on these cases. Additionally, we have worked with local law enforcement on many occasions. Since this activity is usually a first for most local police agencies, we have prepared an informational package geared for police, recapping the problems created by counterfeit products and the applicable statutes. Often, smaller police agencies do not have the facilities for transporting or storing seized products, and Alliance Investigative Services Handles this responsibility. In many cases, police officers involved with these raids have later called us with tips, and at other times we have been asked to identify counterfeit goods found during unrelated arrests.