If you make it, we fake it.
That’s the motto of millions of counterfeiters worldwide, from the mom and pop operations that turn out synthetic booze and drugs in villages to the factories producing phony airplane parts and deadly contaminated baby formula.
The UN has put its collective foot down. This week it launched a campaign to raise awareness about the links between organized crime and counterfeit goods, which it says are worth $250 billion a year.
Canada estimates its black market for pirated and counterfeited goods at more than $30 billion a year – which doesn’t include movies or software.
The Vienna Based UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) will kick off the campaign with a major media effort, splashed across the famous NASDAQ screen in Manhattan’s Times Square and several global TV stations.
It aims to convince bargain-hungry shoppers to “look beyond counterfeit goods and to understand the serious repercussions of this illicit trade,” condemning counterfeiting as a “serious risk to health and safety.”
Top of the danger list are fraudulent foods and medicines, which have poisoned and killed untold numbers of duped people. In one of the worst scandals, six Chinese children died from contaminated baby formula and 300,000 others took ill. But forged machine, auto and airplane parts cause fatal accidents and are responsible for thousands of deaths and injuries.
Even if the goods aren’t deadly the rings that produce and distribute them may be, exploiting workers, trafficking migrants and damaging the environment with impunity.
But for those trying to stamp out counterfeiting the sheer scope of fake goods is daunting -- and mind-boggling in an age when cut-price sales competition is fierce, the public appetite for consumer goods boundless and anything including guns can be duplicated by 3-D printers.
Some fakes rob governments and employers as well as individuals. In Toronto, fake TTC Metropasses cost the cash-strapped transit organization close to $2 million a year. In China, where the underground economy is often right on the surface, peddlers openly flog fake receipts that are used to evade taxes and defraud companies, says the New York Times.
Consumers at every level must be wary. Phony hockey merchandise, including NHL jerseys, hats and T-shirts have been seized in the U.S. But high-end designer goods are especially susceptible to fraud, and even fine wines and vintage cars have been counterfeited and sold for multi-figure sums.
In an age of virtual reality, some fakes have acquired their own cachet. Last summer Fordham University put on an exhibition of confiscated art forgeries from the FBI to enthusiastic audience reaction. The show was called Caveat Emptor – or buyer beware.
Olivia Ward has covered the former Soviet Union, Middle East and South Asia, winning national and international awards.