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Counterfeit Consumer Products Turn Dangerous

Our firm began investigating the sources of counterfeit consumer products in the 1980’s with a focus on movie and music cassettes; software, purses, sunglasses, collectibles and other small consumer items, generally sold by street merchants or retail stores in U.S. metropolitan areas.

While they represented a nuisance to our client companies, the imitation goods or “knockoffs” were very cheap reproductions of the genuine product and in most cases were easily discernible, as their appearance, packaging and labeling were cheaply fashioned. Our primary function was to locate and identify the vendors of the counterfeit goods, confirm that they were bogus products, and work with law enforcement agencies to seize the goods and work up the chain to identify the source suppliers.

In the intervening period, the quality and quantity of counterfeit goods has increased dramatically and, as such, impacted manufacturers and retailers both economically and in the marketplace; where bogus goods are being purchased by consumers who could care less where it’s made, as long as it bears the name or logo of a prestigious product. While law enforcement agencies lead by U.S. Customs have ramped up their efforts to stop the flow of counterfeit goods at our borders, the sheer increase in the size and scope of the problem has limited their capacity to seize the counterfeit goods to mitigate the problem at our ports of entry. To counter these efforts, the bogus product counterfeiters have increasingly turned to the Internet and set up websites to attract new customers and ship goods through the mail or by use of independent shippers. On November 29, 2010, Homeland Security countered by shutting down 82 websites that had been identified as sources for these goods.

In October 2011, an international pact formed by eight nations, including the United States, signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) to protect intellectual property rights for in member countries against trademark and copyright infringement. While it is effective in some respects, the countries who are the primary originating sources for these counterfeit goods have not signed the agreement, which no doubt bars its overall effectiveness.

What is most frightening and a real source of concern to this writer is the issue of Counterfeit Drugs that are available for sale, especially on the Internet. Many of these counterfeit drugs, be they purported brand or generic medications, have been found to contain harmful ingredients, devoid of the true active formula(s), with no therapeutic or medicinal values. Consumers looking to save money use Google or other search engines to locate sources of “cheap drugs” or “prescription drugs” to compare prices and buy them, sometimes without a doctor’s prescription. Many of the online “pharmacies” are not licensed and are located outside of the United States. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a portal on its website to report suspected counterfeit drugs and will investigate any suspicious activity through their Office of Criminal Investigations.

If you believe that you have purchased a counterfeit drug, you should never take the medication but instead preserve the suspected counterfeit product, including the packaging and shipping labels, and report it to the FDA as quickly as possible. Other resources relative to this topic and tips on safeguarding against counterfeit drugs are available online including the Mayo Clinic’s Health Information Clinic. The byline is that we all must be vigilant in purchasing prescription drugs only from known, reliable and licensed pharmacies or through distributors authorized by our health insurance providers.

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