When thinking of counterfeit, most people think of knock-off designer wear and clothing accessories, a business that’s been luring in the bargain hunters of the world for years. But the truth is, counterfeit is a whole lot bigger and scarier than most of us realize. Counterfeit products have been known to pop up unbeknownst to us in our everyday lives – products like toothpaste, prescription drugs and gas aren’t even immune. In all instances counterfeit is what it implies: not the real thing. And that means safety regulations are faked, as are the ingredients or component parts. Whether we’re ready to believe it or not, the counterfeit industry affects us all, and it’s estimated to cost the global economy up to $250 billion a year. Millions of counterfeit shipments enter the U.S. alone annually. While the government has been stepping up to try and stop the madness, in reality only a fraction of the products are seized at Customs and Border Protection. And that fraction is still a gigantic amount. The value of goods seized last year along was $1.7 billion – up 38 per cent since 2012. And as hard as we may try to stay on top of what appears to be an out-of-control industry, counterfeiters seem to be keeping one step ahead, developing more and more sophisticated ways of getting goods into the U.S. – including fake border patrol cars.
China and India have strong holds on the global business of making fakes, but we can’t place all the responsibility solely on these developing countries shoulders. As long as manufacturers are slack with safety checks and regulations, and purchasers lose a sense of vigilance, and as long as we continue to consciously buy fake Fendis out of the trunks of cars, we will be exploited. Places like China have found enormous economic stability from job creation as a result of this industry and until we become more discerning consumers they will continue to produce what we buy.
10. Fake border patrol cars
A few years ago, drug cartels took smuggling 1,500 pounds of marijuana across the U.S. border to a whole new level by using fake Border Patrol cars with phony license plates and drivers impersonating patrollers. They almost got away with it too, until one officer observed a BP vehicle driving suspiciously. While the driver managed to enter the US without inspection at the tollbooth, perfectly executing an imitation of a BP official to the officials themselves, he was eventually pulled over for his odd choice of route and the stash was found.
9. Apple Products
More than 1,000 shipments of computers and accessories were seized in the U.S. last year, although counterfeit computer seizures account for only a tiny percentage of such captures – counterfeit accessories dominate this market. In L.A. the police department seized over $10 million worth of fake iPods, iPhones and other apple products and last August in Maryland nearly $100,000 worth of counterfeit Apple products were seized from two shopping mall stores. While it may seem tempting – hey, it looks the same and it’s cheaper – there has actually been a death related to a knock-off iPhone. Last year, a woman in China – a flight attendant with Southern China Airlines – was fatally electrocuted by her fake iPhone charger. Counterfeit cell phone batteries have also been known to cause phones to explode. Apple has stepped up to offer a half-off replacement of real chargers for those that bring in their fakes.
In Ukraine, petrol is being faked to an alarming degree, with over 75 per cent of the gas sold at independent stations actually counterfeit fuel. So, what exactly does that mean? Tests of the fake gas have shown their ingredients to vastly exceed the standards for benzene content by almost 11 times, and sulphur content by almost 80 times the regulated amounts. In an even bigger counterfeit-gas problem, knock-off refrigerant gas has leaked into the cool supply chain in a big way. Some of the world’s biggest logistics companies, even the UN, are involved in battles with bootleggers. The companies – which service refrigerated containers, known as reefer boxes, are seen on cargo ships and are used to ship temperature sensitive items – have taken their concerns public. The companies are attempting to combat the criminals who are supplying substandard gas into the global supply chain, gas which has been linked to container explosions that have killed at least four workers in the last few years. This is a fairly new problem, first arising in 2010, and has proven difficult to control without a global system of enforcement. The Container Owners Association (COA) has published the results of a study that surveyed several hundred container service companies to establish how companies test their refrigerant gas, if they do at all. Results should help reefer manufacturers develop a more rigorous development process.
7. Prescription Drugs
Last year in the U.S. alone, nearly $80 million worth of counterfeit prescription drugs and products was seized, which – on a brighter note – is actually lower than the $83 million in 2012 and significantly lower than 2011’s $142 million. International efforts to crack down on the sale of fake pharmaceuticals have obviously proven productive, but while the numbers have decreased, the concern should not. 10 per cent of all pharmaceuticals globally are believed to be fakes. In parts of China, highly refined large-scale factories are pumping out bottle after bottle of knock-off pills, and India’s 15,000 illicit fake drug factories are believed to account for 75 per cent of the world’s supply of counterfeit drugs. While some counterfeiters do try to replicate the real thing, oftentimes the pills are placebos, and just as dangerous for patients who depend on their medication for critical health issues. As has been determined by various investigative journalism pieces, many of the counterfeit placebo drugs contain ingredients such as the blood thinner, Plavix, a hormone treatment for prostate cancer known as Casodex and a schizophrenia treatment known as Zyprexa. As for the drugs that are devised by counterfeiters to represent the effects of the real thing, often the ingredients are not accurately mimicked, making them extremely dangerous for the user.
6. Dietary Supplements
According to a recent investigation by Natural News, a consumer advocacy whistleblower news organization, counterfeiters for dietary supplements are profiting by their exploitation of Amazon.com’s trust factor – when Amazon unknowingly appoints high star ratings to the products – and selling their fake products to millions of unsuspecting online customers. While the operation seems completely separate from Amazon itself, the fact remains that the online giant can’t adequately police the vast number of third-party sellers who are hawking their products on the site. The result is synthetic forms of supplements that are useless and usually contain high levels of contaminants. Fake dietary supplements can have a strong footing in the counterfeit industry because it is one that remains virtually unregulated, with the “companies” able to promote false claims without any checks or balances. American health guru Dr. Oz recently revealed that his name has been misappropriated and attached to dietary supplements of which he had no knowledge.
The irony of faking a medication used for achieving orgasm has not been lost here. But the situation is uncomfortably serious. Just a few of the ingredients that can be found in the knock-off blue pills include printer ink, amphetamines and Metronidazole, which is a heavy duty antibiotic that can induce diarrhea, vomiting and cause severe allergic reactions. The fakes can also contain either too much or not enough of other ingredients that can lead to any number of harmful after-effects (here we will use our imagination).
While Pfizer has an exclusive patent for full autonomy over the sale of their product, this has not stopped counterfeiters from meticulously stamping their own pills with the same logo. In 2011, More than eight and a half million fake Viagra tablets were intercepted at the UK border. And in recent years, evidence suggests that most Viagra and similar medication sold online is fake, with 77 per cent of all Viagra purchased online for the study being determined as counterfeit.
Anti-freeze, anyone? In 2007, the Colgate-Palmolive Co. issued a public warning that counterfeit toothpaste labeled as “Colgate” had been discovered in four U.S. states and contained a poisonous chemical called Diethylene Glycol (DEG), more commonly known as antifreeze. The knock-off toothpaste was found in dollar stores located in Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. The toothpaste giant said in a press release that the fake tubes can be spotted easily because of typos in the boxed packaging, which were labeled as “Manufactured in South Africa.” Colgate explained this was not only untrue but also misspelled as “South Afrlca,” as well as a shoddy stamp of approval from the “South African Dental Assoxiation.”Colgate says it’s working closely with the FDA to help to identify those responsible for the counterfeit product. Six years later, it is unclear if that goal was reached, but so far no further fake-toothpaste related incidents have been reported.
3. Electrical products
Fake electronic products are on a steep rise, up 40 per cent in 2013 to $145.9 million worth of seizures within the U.S. alone, making it the third most often apprehended fake product in the country. There’s a wide range of knock-off electronics out there, from circuit breakers to power bars, batteries and extension cords. It goes without saying that these types of fakes can be extremely dangerous, given that they are not subject to regulated safety tests and built without adherence to safety standards. As a result, what may seem like a great bargain can be potentially deadly.
2. Car parts
Last year, Irish officials issued a warning about counterfeit brake pads in vehicles that didn’t meet official safety standards. The products were labeled with brands that included Volkswagen, and were found to have up to 30 per cent less braking power than their genuine counterparts. US-based Consumer Reports magazine also stated that counterfeit brake pads in the U.S. were found to be made with ingredients that included “kitty litter, sawdust, and dried grass.” Really makes you want to drive fast down a steep hill, doesn’t it? Brake pads aren’t the only knock-off car part to be worried about. In 2013, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated that “tens of thousands of counterfeit airbags” were installed in U.S. vehicles. It was determined that the places in which this happened were independent car repair shops, where purchasers have perhaps less visibility or regulation processes for their suppliers.
1. Airplane parts
Easily the most devastating case of counterfeit to date was found on Partnair Flight 394, a chartered flight that crashed off the coast of Denmark in 1989. All 50 passengers and 5 crew died as a result of what was deemed to be an issue regarding fraudulent aircraft parts. The investigation team appointed ultimately discovered that three of the bolts and pins used to secure the tail of the plane were inferior faked parts that should never have been installed. As a result, the metal in the bolts was not strong enough for their purpose and eventually failed against the resonating vibration that occurred in flight.
Currently, counterfeit electronics have flooded the military aircraft manufacturing market as well. Even after the investigation that came about from the Partnair Flight, faked parts were discovered to have been installed on Airforce One. To their credit, the FAA has created a significantly more rigorous system of documentation in an effort to prevent the growing creation and distribution of fake aircraft parts since the 90s, but a new report in 2012 suggests there is a long way to go. According to a recent year-long investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee, counterfeit electronic parts from China have found their way into U.S. military systems, including special operations helicopters and surveillance planes.