Make us your home page
Instagram

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

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers pursue counterfeiters as part of enforcing international trade laws.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers pursue counterfeiters as part of enforcing international trade laws.

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 jstockfisch@tampabay.com.

How to avoid buying a counterfeit item

• Scrutinize labels, packaging and contents. Look for missing or expired "use by" dates, broken or missing safety seals, or otherwise unusual packaging.

• Seek authorized retailers. Companies often publish lists of authorized retailers online.

• Watch for missing sales tax charges.

• Warn friends and family of illegitimate product sources. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to spread information about dangerous and defective products and those who sell them.

• Trust your instincts. As always, beware of a purchase that is "too good to be true."

Source: National Intellectual Property Rights Coordinating Center

The feds are cracking down on fake trendy purses, belts and watches in Tampa Bay 08/04/16 [Last modified: Saturday, August 6, 2016 9:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. New town homes sprouting in Oldsmar

    Real Estate

    BY PIPER CASTILLO

    Times Staff Writer

    OLDSMAR — City officials have been chipping away for several years on a downtown development plan, bringing new life to a 7-acre site on State Street. One day in the not-far-off future, they want to lively streets and walkways used by residents and …

  2. Study: Tampa Bay a top market for homebuyers on the move

    Real Estate

    The Tampa Bay area is among the top markets for homebuyers who are likely to move in the next few months, ATTOM Data Solutions says.

    The Tampa Bay area is among the top markets for homebuyers who are likely to move in the next few months, a survey found.
[Associated Press file photo]
  3. Ousted to political Siberia by Corcoran, Kathleen Peters sets sights on Pinellas Commission

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — The perks of power in Tallahassee are a coveted chairmanship, a Capitol office in a prime location and a prominent seat on the House floor. Now Rep. Kathleen Peters has lost all three, but here's the twist: Her trip to "Siberia" might actually help her reach the next step on the Tampa Bay political …

    Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, has been relegated to the back row in the State House chamber, moved to a fouth floor office and stripped of her job as chairwoman of a House subcommittee after a series of disagreements with House Speaker Richard Corcoran. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  4. UPS relocates express operations from St. Pete-Clearwater to TIA

    Airlines

    TAMPA — United Parcel Service Inc. is switching airports for its express air operations. Beginning in October, UPS will relocate from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport.

    Beginning in October, UPS will move from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport. [Associated Press file photo]

  5. Richard Corcoran takes aim at public financing of campaigns

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, may not be running for governor — not yet anyway — but his latest idea will get the attention of those who are.

    House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants the Constitu?tion Revision Commis?sion to ask voters to repeal the state’s system of partial financing of statewide elections.