A group of guys on the sidewalk yelling out to passersby, a table buckling under the weight of the mountain of handbags towering on top of them - this is the typical image of knock-off products being sold on the streets, but fake handbag sales aren't limited to the streets.
Recently, a business owner in Fort Pierce was charged with selling fake goods from her store, Bling it on. The counterfeits sold at Janet Fay Birdsall's store were reproductions of products from high-end brands such as by Michael Kors, Coach, Tory Burch, Gucci, Chanel, Van Cleef & Arpels and Sanrio. The woman was charged with the possession or sale of $2,500 worth of knock-off goods through her business. When authorities searched the store they came across close to 70 counterfeit items, valued at around $24,000.
Birdsall was able to obtain the fake goods through online retailers based in China, as well as traveling to New York City's Chinatown District and buying out of back rooms. She purchased one item, priced at $400, for $50.
"Counterfeit goods cost the economy an estimated $250 million annually."
Operation Turnlock finding some success
Counterfeit goods such as the ones sold through Birdsall's business cost the U.S. economy an estimated $250 million per year. In the case of designer items such as handbags, the situation got so bad that Coach initiated Operation Turnlock in 2009 in order to combat sales of knock-off goods. The operation was started as a zero tolerance targeting of anyone involved in the sale of counterfeit handbags, throughout the supply chain. Large wholesale operations, small businesses, internet sites, purse party operators, street vendors and flea markets all fell under the scope of Coach's collaboration with law enforcement agencies.
Eventually, the operation even targeted a customs brokerage firm, a company that checks on the product authenticity of imported and exported goods. Coach won a lawsuit against the firm, making it the first successful suit of its kind, and showing that the brand's campaign isn't a joke. Thus far, it has filed more than 650 lawsuits within the scope of Operation Turnlock. The company has good reason for initiating such an aggressive campaign against knock-offs.
Handbags counterfeiters' favorite product
Handbags and wallets are the most counterfeited items in the country. In 2013, more than $700 million worth of these products were seized by MSRP, a haul which comprised 40 percent of the total value of all goods taken. The over 2,000 shipments found to contain knock-offs was a sign that, though effective, Operation Turnlock hasn't eliminated knock-offs. Additionally, labels and tags were listed together as another one of the most counterfeited items
There are a number of ways that counterfeit bags differ from the real thing. For one, though reproductions look exquisite from the outside, the interior is often a dead give away as to the authenticity of a handbag. Another sign is the product authentication labels that some brands use to confirm to retailers and customers that the products are indeed real.
Lisa Hill is an expert in finding authentication and protection solutions for companies whose brands come under attack from illegal activities such as counterfeiting and product diversion. Her particular area of expertise is in the apparel, footwear and outdoor sectors. She sits on the AAFA Brand Protection Council and the IACC Product Security Task Force.