Operation "Super Fake," illegal immigration, a cigar shop front for counterfeit drugs and arsenic make-up - it's the counterfeiting news roundup for February 2015!
January and early February were active times for counterfeiters, and we've collected some of the most telling stories from all around the world. This is just one more way that OpSec keeps you up to date on what's happening in brand protection.
Operation Super Fake
The Super Bowl attracts fraudulent merchandise every year, and so every year authorities and trade groups put forth a concerted anti-counterfeit effort.
"This operation demonstrates CBP's commitment to protecting our citizens from the threats posed by counterfeits."
This year, a Greater Cincinnati mail facility stopped about $12 million worth of counterfeit Super Bowl merchandise from making it onto the market, according to WCPO. The investigation, run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was dubbed "Operation Super Fake."
In all, investigators confiscated almost 700 shipments of counterfeit jerseys, T-shirts and related merchandise bearing NFL-associated logos, the news source explained. The entire operation happened between Jan. 26 and Jan. 29 at the express consignment facility at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
"This operation demonstrates CBP's commitment to protecting our citizens from the threats posed by counterfeits," Brenda Smith, the assistant commissioner to the Office of International Trade, told WCPO. "Our CBP Officers and trade experts remain vigilant in detecting these violations and enforcing all trade laws."
The news source explained that the agency commissioned help from the Apparel, Footwear and Textile Center of Excellence and Expertise to assist in the operation, as well as officers from the Area Port of Cincinnati. CBP spokesperson Melissa Maraj told the news source that international mail facilities across the countries have similar screening processes. She explained that the Port of Cincinnati has a larger operation, so it's natural that it gets more news attention.
Cigar store drug front
In West Palm Beach, Florida, a different kind of anti-counterfeit bust went down just this week.
Havana Nights Cigar Bar and Lounge, a well-known Palm Beach establishment, was until recently owned by mogul Frank Fiore. Fiore was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison on Feb. 5 for conspiring to traffic counterfeit drugs and illegally distributing steroids, according to Local 10.
Undercover federal agents uncovered a host of crimes and extensive drug trafficking linked to the cigar bar, including cocaine sales and outright theft, but prosecutors alleged that Fiore made the most money on counterfeit pharmaceuticals, the news source reported. Some drugs linked to Havana Nights included Xanax, Viagra, Cialis, Deca Durabolin, testosterone propionate and testosterone ethanate. An undercover officer also told the judge at the trial that Fiore had asked him to break his brother-in-law's leg and steal money and jewelry from him.
Prosecutors also claimed that Fiore shared corporate bank accounts with Joseph Gagliano, the son of former New Orleans mob underboss "Muffaletta Frank" Gagliano, according to Local 10.
Dangerous metals in fake cosmetics
One of the most serious concerns in the anti-counterfeit business is the potential for health risks to consumers who accidentally purchase fake goods with inferior quality. One of the product groups most frequently associated with this concern is cosmetics.
"It is unusual for fake and dangerous cosmetics to appear on the high street."
The local council raided a shop in Nuneaton in the UK in response to an area resident who reported a skin reaction to a cosmetic product purchased there, according to the BBC. The investigation found counterfeit versions of numerous beauty products by brands including Mac, Benefit and Naked Pallet, which contained almost 20 times the amount of lead that is permitted.
The Warwickshire County Council told the news source that an investigation is under way. Already, tests have found heavy metals in lip gloss, skin powder, eye shadow, eye liner and other facial products. Metals found included lead, cadmium, copper, mercury and even arsenic.
"It is unusual for fake and dangerous cosmetics to appear on the high street," Councilor Richard Chattaway told the BBC. "However, we would advise consumers to seek medical attention if they have an adverse reaction to any product they purchase and to report the product to trading standards. Retailers are also reminded that they have a responsibility to ensure the products they sell or use on their customers are both genuine and safe."
The council explained that no official action has been taken against the retailer as of yet, pending the results of the investigation.
Often in cases like this, the consumer facing vendor is not to blame - instead, gaps in the supply chain allow counterfeiters to sneak their products in. This case should serve to highlight the importance of end-to-end traceability in hindering counterfeiters' efforts.
Counterfeiting is a complex problem, and combating it requires a nuanced approach, cooperation between brands, government agencies and third parties and a focus on the bottom line. OpSec Security is proud to be on the forefront of this fight, protecting intellectual property rights for the sake of fairness to companies and consumers' well being.
Branddy Spence is OpSec's Director of Corporate Communications. Prior to her current role, she spent several years implementing successful brand protection programs for many well-known licensing and entertainment brands.