Pinellas Park, Florida - With a little more than a week left for Christmas Shopping, the mad dash is on to choose the right gifts for the right price. But would you know how to spot a counterfeit designer purse, shoes, or even electronics from the real thing?
Over the weekend, detectives with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office charged Richard Levy with forging or counterfeiting private labels and offering for sale counterfeit items. He's a vendor at the Wagon Wheel Flea Market at 7801 Park Boulevard in Pinellas Park.
Investigators say he had 800 items worth $50,000 worth of fake items, including Fendi, Hermes, Prada, Oakley, Ray Ban, Michael Kors, and Versace.
From jewelry to jerseys, gold and golf clubs, the amount of counterfeit merchandise on the market may be more common than you think, especially now. ICE supervising special agent Tony Rucco says, "Counterfeiting is prevalent especially during the holiday season. Everybody is looking for a deal."
But that good deal could be a real dud whether you're shelling out big bucks thinking you're getting the real deal this holiday shopping season or whether you're searching for counterfeit goods to save money.
Erika Matulich is the Professor of Marketing at the University of Tampa. She says, "It's estimated as much as 50% of the goods sold are are counterfeit. You might be getting a lower price but you're also getting lower quality, and you could even be buying products that could be dangerous ... so you might be giving away a gift that could hurt somebody, that could have harmful chemicals in it."
Matulich has been teaching students about the issue for the past 15 years and adds,"New technology with scanners and printers have made it so much easier for counterfeiters to rip off logos and print them onto things, and it's really hard for consumers to detect that they're getting a counterfeit product until it falls apart or becomes a problem."
Meanwhile, Bay area detectives are trying to put counterfeiters out of business.
Last Thursday, at 60-year-old Tony Mitchell's shop in Winter Haven, deputies say they found fake Nike Shoes, Levi jeans, Louis Vuitton boots, and Coach wallets being sold out of his shop called "T Mitch Auto Sales."
Matulich says consumers need to educate themselves about the brands they're buying by going online to see how the product is made and where it's made. She says you should also be able to learn where where you can buy it from reputable retailers.
Consumers can't get in trouble for buying counterfeit merchandise, but New York City Council member Margaret Chin did push for penalizing customers by fining them a thousand dollars. Her proposal didn't go far, but now she's going after the owners of the buildings where the fake merchandise is being sold if that proposal gets off the ground it could set a precedent.
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