When you are searching the Internet for bargains, you often see opportunities to really save some money. The Internet is a great tool for digging into stores that you’d never see on the street, and stores that will be shut down in days after they get your money and move on, but more on that later. What you may not realize when shopping for these Internet bargains, or flea market bargains, or street corner bargains, is that in addition to buying some kind of product you think you want, you are supporting all the things that go along with the underworld of counterfeits.
As the former statewide prosecutor of Florida, I’ve dealt for years with organized rings of thieves and counterfeiters. They sell pharmaceuticals, electronics, and of course handbags and watches. I have seen into that world and worked against them for years. I am fortunate to have seen the real impact that counterfeits have, not just on our economy, but on lives. Most consumers haven’t seen through that window, so I thought I’d share some of the hidden “benefits” you get every time you buy something that is counterfeit.
1. Supporting Slave Labor (Manufacturing)
Many counterfeit goods are made in developing countries by gangs that have no regard for their workers. Know that with every counterfeit you buy, you are helping to employ slaves who toil in horrific conditions. They receive little pay and work at the whim of the bosses. While some may be more humane, you don’t know who treats their workers well and who doesn’t.
Safety is never a concern for the counterfeiter, because you can literally just go out and buy more workers if you need them. You can sleep knowing that the handbag in your closet has given someone forced into labor a few more hours of breath while they pleased the master.
2. Endangering the Environment
If you think the labor conditions are the only miserable thing you’re supporting, think of the fine environmental practices that your counterfeiting dollars go to support. Producing counterfeit clothes and handbags requires dyes (more on that in “Endangering Your Health” below); producing electronics requires chemicals; most manufacturing of any kind requires some toxins.
Even though you diligently sort your recycling at home, you can rest assured that that level of “paper and plastic discipline” does not exist on the counterfeiters’ factory floor. Even though these counterfeiters are polluting on the other side of the world from where you live, your counterfeit purchase supports really hazardous polluting all over the world—buy local/impact global!
3. Supporting Organized Crime
Another hidden benefit to buying counterfeits is that you can help organized crime. While this might not seem like an obvious benefit right off the bat, many of the groups involved in counterfeiting do this as a sideline to other parts of the operation, like drug trafficking or prostitution.
As any good business school student can tell you, you need to diversify your company to spread risk. Counterfeiting is an obvious choice and oftentimes less violent than other business lines. It allows the organized crime figure to go a bit more legit and have a job he can tell friends and relatives about. If you are in pharmaceutical counterfeiting, you’re in “healthcare.” If you make shoes or counterfeit clothes you are in the apparel industry. All of these options are eminently more disclosable than prostitution or gun-running. Your dollars give them that avenue to respectability… good work.
4. Great Return Policies and Customer Service Follow-through
Perhaps it goes without saying, but counterfeiters who operate from disposable websites or street corner card tables are not known for their customer service or product reliability. If the product even arrives, it may not be exactly what you expected. Sadly when you go back to the site to find the 800 number, you will likely find that the site is no longer there.
What to do with a pair of shoes that is missing one shoe or a laptop that has no keyboard? That goes beyond the scope of this article, but might be found in arts-and-crafts how-to.
5. Supporting Slave Labor (Retail)
While your counterfeit product street vendor might seem upbeat and happy to sell you his goods, keep in mind he is not there to make you happy, but to make his distributor happy. Oftentimes these “retail workers” are nothing more than indentured servants working long hours in tough conditions to pay off a smuggler’s debt that will never be paid. Charges for housing, food and unsold goods or missed sales quotas can add to the debt in a cycle that never lets it be paid.
Slave labor and human trafficking are not just on the factory floors on the other side of the world. Buying counterfeits helps you support local, modern-day slave traders too.
6. Endangering Your Health
If you think that the environmental, health and safety risks stop at the counterfeiter’s door, you’re selling yourself short. When you put that dye next to your own skin, you get to gain some of those environmental shortcuts directly in your pores. Imagine the health benefits of holding counterfeit electronics next to your brain stem while you listen to music or talk on the phone.
The long-term health advantages of counterfeits cannot be ignored. Who knows, you might even get to pass some of those toxins on to your family members?
7. Saving Money
This is the one and only step most consumers think about. The price may be lower. Counterfeiters don’t have to spend time, effort, or money on research and development; they don’t have to invest in their people or their company future. They don’t have to do any of the things that American businesses proudly do to build strong companies that help our economy and our people. And counterfeiters can pass those savings on to you.
The bottom line: If you buy counterfeits, they are often cheaper than the real thing… but at what cost?
William Shepherd is a Partner at Holland & Knight LLP. He is a litigator who helps companies confront counterfeiters who steal their brand or steal their trade secrets. He seeks remedies for clients by suing thieves in civil court and through referring them for criminal prosecution. Holland & Knight is a global law firm with nearly 1,200 lawyers and other professionals in 24 U.S. offices, as well as Bogotá and Mexico City. Its lawyers provide representation in litigation, business, real estate and governmental law. Interdisciplinary practice groups and industry-based teams provide clients with access to attorneys throughout the firm, regardless of location.