Monday, September 24, 2018
Business

The feds are cracking down on fake trendy purses, belts and watches in Tampa Bay

TAMPA — The people who are working to keep terrorists out of the country and dope off the streets are also making it a little harder for you to score a knockoff of one of those trendy handbags, belts or watches.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, has initiated cases against at least seven people in the past year in U.S. District Court for Florida's middle district, which includes the Tampa Bay area, alleging the counterfeiting of consumer products, chiefly women's handbags.

It's not small potatoes. A Hernando County couple is accused of selling nearly $1.4 million worth of purses infringing on the trademarks of Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada, Hermes and Gucci. A Pinellas couple sold more than $878,000 worth of the stuff.

"This year I guess we've had good luck," said Ritchie Flores, group supervisor of fraud investigations for Homeland Security. "But it's more accessible. It's out there on every corner. The volumes we see are just gigantic."

The knockoff goods typically come from Chinese manufacturers.

Fake purses fall under the purview of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, because its mission is to promote homeland security through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing customs, international trade and immigration.

The workload at the Tampa court results from the sheer dollar figures the accused are bringing in as such transactions move from flea-market counters to global online trading, said Flores.

"We look for our biggest bang for our buck," he said. "We tend to focus more on the financial side, looking for somebody who's moving volumes of merchandise."

The cases can be initiated by complaints from customers, from other law enforcement agencies, or from representatives of the designers themselves.

"We work hand in hand with industry, because obviously, they're going to be the one who's going to be able to authenticate their brand," said Rana Saoud, another fraud group supervisor in Tampa.

A spokeswoman from Michael Kors declined to comment, and officials at Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Ray-Ban and Gucci, all of whom are named in Tampa complaints, did not respond to requests for interviews.

But the designers take the issue very seriously — all have brand-protection divisions and the businesses typically address counterfeiting and how to avoid it on their websites.

The problem extends far beyond the Tampa Bay area.

A Customs and Border Protection fact sheet notes that in fiscal year 2012, the most recent data available, there were 22,848 intellectual property rights seizures with a manufacturer's suggested retail value of $1.26 billion. Handbags and wallets are the fourth-most trafficked items, behind apparel, electronics and CDs/DVRs.

The National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center said that such theft negatively affects the economic well-being of the designers and manufacturers through lost profits, brand dilution and enforcement costs, while all of us suffer through job and tax-revenue losses.

The ICE agents noted that dealing in counterfeit material may be attractive to participants because unlike drug trafficking, they don't deal with dangerous drugs, guns and street crime. But the main motivation is likely the bottom line.

"You only have to think about the money," Flores said. "You buy a watch for $5 or $6, and it's being sold for $50 or $60, just do the math. It's just ridiculous."

Contact Jerome R. Stockfisch at [email protected]

Comments
FEMA rolling out new flood zone maps for Tampa Bay counties

FEMA rolling out new flood zone maps for Tampa Bay counties

Thousands of Tampa Bay-area property owners could soon find themselves with new flood zone designations on their homes and businesses.The Federal Emergency Management Agency has completed a years-long study to update flood zone maps in Hillsborough, ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rep. Charlie Crist urges federal consumer watchdog to investigate Marlin Financial

Rep. Charlie Crist urges federal consumer watchdog to investigate Marlin Financial

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is calling for the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to investigate Marlin Financial, saying he was "disturbed" by a recent Tampa Bay Times’ investigation into the online auto finance company. In a letter Tuesday af...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Dunkin' to drop Donuts, change name in January

Dunkin' to drop Donuts, change name in January

Dunkin' is dropping the donuts — from its name, anyway.Doughnuts are still on the menu, but the company is renaming itself "Dunkin'" to reflect its increasing emphasis on coffee and other drinks.The change will officially take place ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Struggling against Red Tide, a Redington Beach liquor store is too small to qualify for local aid

Struggling against Red Tide, a Redington Beach liquor store is too small to qualify for local aid

REDINGTON BEACH — Mark Wilson hasn’t had a customer for hours.As the only liquor store on his stretch of Pinellas County beaches, Wilson is used to a steady stream of tourists from the nearby condos and hotels. Other beachfront businesses affected by...
Published: 09/25/18
Weight Watchers slims its name down to WW

Weight Watchers slims its name down to WW

Weight Watchers is its dropping its brand name in exchange for something slimmer: "WW." The company says the new logo - coupled with the tagline "Wellness that Works" -- puts an emphasis on overall health and well being, with less...
Published: 09/24/18
Study: Some Tampa Bay neighborhoods among quickest selling in the state

Study: Some Tampa Bay neighborhoods among quickest selling in the state

Tampa Bay sounds like a home seller’s dream market — even compared to other locales statewide. According to a recent study by SmartAsset, four of the top 10 easiest places to sell a home in Florida are in the bay area. Northern Hillsborough County ac...
Published: 09/24/18
Lower demand brings slight dip in gas prices across state, Tampa Bay

Lower demand brings slight dip in gas prices across state, Tampa Bay

Just in time for fall, pump prices are finally declining. Gas prices in Florida averaged $2.72 per gallon Monday, down from $2.74 per gallon a week ago, according to AAA, The Auto Club Group. Tampa Bay prices were even lower at $2.63 per gallon, down...
Published: 09/24/18
SiriusXM to buy Pandora for $3.5 Billion in bid to expand reach

SiriusXM to buy Pandora for $3.5 Billion in bid to expand reach

Satellite radio provider Sirius XM said Monday that it would acquire music streaming service Pandora Media for $3.5 billion in a bid to corral listeners who do not want to pay for premium channels.Pandora rose to success by providing tailored radio s...
Published: 09/24/18
Jeff Vinik invests in gaming headset maker boosted by Fortnite’s popularity

Jeff Vinik invests in gaming headset maker boosted by Fortnite’s popularity

TAMPA — As a mutual fund wonder-boy, hedge fund manager and real estate investor, Jeff Vinik has long displayed a sense for knowing when to put money into the next big thing, and his latest bet on e-sports may be no different.Vink recently bought nea...
Published: 09/24/18
Hernando Business Digest for Sept. 28

Hernando Business Digest for Sept. 28

BrieflyEMPLOYERS NEEDED FOR JOB FAIR: Pasco-Hernando State College, CareerSource Pasco Hernando, the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce and Hernando County Office of Economic Development are seeking employers to participate in the Open for A...
Published: 09/24/18