Is there room for patience in the fight against fakes?

March 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

If history’s taught us anything, it’s that we’re most likely to hear that ‘patience is a virtue’ when we least want to – cooling our heels in a bathroom line that snakes around a stadium or when waiting for food while our stomachs bang on us like steel drums.

Patience is certainly not a bad thing. Emerson believed we ought to adopt the pace of nature, as its secret is patience. And several other nimble, perhaps more realistic minds claimed that while most people will praise this virtue, very few actually practice it.

In short, patience is a lovely concept, but it’s about as easy to practice it as keeping your hands in your pockets while strolling through Willy Wonka’s candy forest.

In the fight against fakes, when you’re grappling with ruthless profiteers who wouldn’t know virtue if they poured it on their cereal each morning, how could we possibly afford to be patient?

Well, even as we demand swift justice for counterfeiters, a recent case has shown us how this tricky virtue can win the day.

A criminal syndicate that moved millions of dollars of fake goods through the port of Baltimore was recently put on I.C.E., as it were – a ring of 9 counterfeiters has been indicted for smuggling counterfeits into the country with the intent to sell.

A 19-month, slow-cooked investigation run by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency hog-tied a counterfeiting operation that had been moving a serious amount of sham weight. Items seized in the haul included:

  • 33 shipping containers filled with fake goods
  • 120,000 pairs of faux Nikes
  • 500,000 sham Coach bags
  • 10,000 pairs of knockoff Gucci and Coach shoes
  • 500 phony Cartier wristwatches

Think about those poor hucksters. What was supposed to be a windfall turned out to be a career-ending collision with the justice system. And they’d probably made plans to put in a pool.

Their lazy backstroking afternoons have turned into frenzied laps in the shark tank. The indictments call for a hefty penalty. If, and we’ve got our fingers crossed, they’re convicted, the counterfeiters could be slammed with the following punishments:

  • the forfeit of all fake goods or their monetary value
  • a fine of at least $1 million for each guilty count of smuggling
  • a fine of at least $1 million for each guilty count of trafficking
  • the forced surrender of any equipment used in the trafficking, including vehicles and containers

Combined with some sizable jail time, it’s just the type of prize package they deserve.

The hard work and yes, patience, of the I.C.E. and their British counterparts earned a big knock against counterfeiting.

That said, the waiting game is best left to law enforcement agencies. When it comes to spreading the word about the fake trade, we can’t delay.

Much like the luxuries we aim to protect, patience is best practiced by master craftspeople. Faking it can have disastrous results.

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The UK’s Real Deal campaign aims to rid its markets of counterfeiters

March 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

It’s a difficult truth to swallow, but anyone interested in buying a fake really won’t have a lot of trouble making a purchase.

There was a time when shopping trips for knockoffs involved shady deals in dingy rooms, when fakes were bought in a cloud of exhaust and cigarette smoke in the back of a van that had windows tinted with duct tape.

It won’t take Old Golds and diesel-scented air fresheners to recreate that type of experience. It’s still an option. But because a simple Internet connection provides access to a vast marketplace of authentic and counterfeit goods, alike, most transactions involving fakes are done in the digital space.

What was once accomplished by hurried black market exchanges is now done in slippers and Snuggies.

If it weren’t easy enough, in some areas of the country sham goods are actually being sold in major retail stores. Back in 2006, Fendi brought a lawsuit against Wal-mart for selling fake versions of its purses. Burberry recently sued The TJX Companies (operator of TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Homegoods stores) for a similar offense.

Whether or not these retailers were aware of the phonies on their shelves remains to be seen and there’s a chance it may have been an innocent mistake. But the only sure way to prevent these knock-offs from appearing in stores or on websites is to kill the demand for them. It begins and ends with the consumer.

As much as we’d like it to, the demand isn’t likely to go away in the near future, but a bright spot has recently appeared on the anticounterfeiting horizon and we believe it will make a significant contribution to the fight against fakes.

Known as the Real Deal campaign, this initiative calls for an end to the sale of counterfeits in Britain’s markets – in the States we know them as flea markets, green markets or open-air markets. It represents the combined effort of national and local agencies working alongside market organizers and vendors to push out the counterfeiters.

It’s a grassroots call to arms that continues to gain momentum. With over 40 organizations already committed to the charter, the Real Deal campaign has been steadily gaining momentum since it began in July 2009. In time, counterfeiters around the world will feel its effect.

You might be skeptical about this last claim. It’s natural to wonder how improved enforcement in micro-markets can possibly put a dent in a global epidemic that’s responsible for over a trillion dollars in sales each year. At the end of the day, it’s the consumers who are the first and last line of defense against counterfeiting.

And while the efforts of law enforcement agencies are crucial and greatly appreciated, it’s a job they’d rather not have, in fact, we all wish there wasn’t a problem that required their attention.

That’s why the customers are so important to the fight. Newly enlightened shoppers who might have bought a fake are less likely to because they learned about the human rights abuse tied to counterfeiting. And they are not just turning away from fakes themselves, they’re spreading the word.

Communication and education are the pillars of our fight. One cannot successfully stand without the other.

The Real Deal is exactly what this fight needs. It improves dialogue between agencies and individuals, as well as the organizers and consumers.

So while the current availability of sham goods is frustrating, efforts like this campaign give us further hope.

Take note counterfeiters: with all these parties are working together, you ought to start looking for those rocks you crawled out from under. Seems like it’s going to get stormy for you.

We are being totally irrational…most of the time. Dan Ariely offers insight into our behavior.

March 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

Whether or not you believe in fate isn’t just something that gets asked at high school dances, anymore.

The question may be worded differently than it was when the lighting and acoustics of the school gym were a little more important in your life, but the answer still reveals if you take an active role in the choices you make each day.

Left entirely to fate, the decision-making process is on autopilot. But most people believe they play a big part when it comes to making choices. Before acting on an impulse, they consider the options, think about repercussions, and click yea or nay. A nice rational process, right?

It turns out that we might not be as sensible as we think.

One of the speakers at SXSW on Sunday challenged the commonly accepted belief that we make our decisions based on rational factors. Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational and a social scientist at Duke University, gave the audience some pretty compelling reasons why much of the routine is often out of the decision-maker’s control and based on things that are…well, irrational.

There is a difference between what we believe influences our decisions and what really sways us. It’s a common belief that humans are capable of making choices in their best interest, but the truth is we’re often not. We procrastinate, we break diets and commitments to exercise, and we don’t schedule regular checkups with our doctors. We exist sub-optimally.

Ariely believes that when emotions take over, and they often do, humans are more likely to focus on their short-term desires. The longer goals of health and financial well-being are overridden by feelings that would postpone a swim or put off paying bills right now.

The next time Chatroulette! feels like an obvious choice over a jog or a Pilates class, unless you’re a social scientist or an avant-garde marketer with a professional interest in the site, it’s fair to assume that your emotions are driving the procrastination trolley.

The same holds true for counterfeiting. Most consumers who buy something fake understand they are doing something they shouldn’t be. In the moment, their emotions override longer goals of honesty and they make a purchase.

To prevent any self-sabotage, Ariely suggests using pre-commitments and incentives. So if you join a gym, it’s best to do it with another person. You’ll both be more likely to go. Even better is the use of an incentive where each time you duck a workout, you have to pay a penalty.

Ariely became interested in the subject of decision-making after an explosion burned 70% of his body and he was confined to a hospital for three years. The daily routine of recovery involved an excruciating bandaging process that he believed could be done in a less painful way. Despite his protests, the attending nurses insisted on a certain technique – quick and fast.

After he was discharged, he began conducting research on pain. When the experiments validated his original belief that lower intensity of pain over a longer time is preferable for patients, he set out to understand why the nurses, who wanted nothing but the smallest amount of discomfort for their patients and the shortest healing time, could be so willingly wrong. After witnessing the disconnect between what the nurses desired for the patients and their behavior, Ariely was curious about what other aspects of our lives might exhibit this kind of irrationality.

This desire to understand human behavior became the driving force behind his research.

Ariely finished Sunday’s discussion with a demonstration where he had audience members bid on a $20 bill. There were two stipulations, the first being that the winner would pay him whatever they agreed on and would receive the bill. The second stipulation was that the next highest bidder had to pay him as well without any reward. In a race of two, no one wanted to be second, so the bidding kept growing.

The emotion of the potential deal clouded the participants’ judgment so fully that they couldn’t see the long-term problem created by the game.

He concluded his talk at SXSW by assuring the audience that these types of contests are best avoided.

So a solid rule of thumb says that after an initial jolt of excitement hits in any situation, it’s a good idea to ask if what you’re feeling at the time is in sync with your long-term goals before making a decision. A little patience and self-awareness is all it requires.

You can see more of Ariely’s work at http://www.predictablyirrational.com.

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Whether fake Ferraris or sham aspirin, it’s important not to lose sight of counterfeiting’s true victims

March 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

At the fifth annual Harper’s Bazaar Anti-counterfeiting Summit in May 2009, attendees were abuzz about a particular item parked outside the Hearst Tower. Roped off and resting on a green carpet on 8th Avenue was a dazzling piece of automotive craftsmanship: a 1967 Ferrari P4.

Finished in that famous shade of red, the car was the vision of a true artisan, the perfect blend of engineering and elegance. It was the kind of vehicle you imagine cutting corners along the Amalfi Coast or snaking along the roads of the Tuscan countryside.

As it’s rumored that only one completely original version of the car still exists, it was a rare experience for car buffs and casual observers strolling between 56th and 57th streets. But because this beauty was part of the Anti-counterfeiting Summit, where everyone attending was committed to ending the sale of fake goods, the auto had to be flawed in some way.

There were comments about the hubcaps and the windscreen being counterfeit. The more refined eyes were able to detect a pair of phony wipers and sham taillights, but identified by themselves, these components only represented a fraction of a larger problem – the entire vehicle was fake. From the steering wheel to the tailpipe, there wasn’t an authentic piece of Ferrari engineering in the car.

When you think about what it took to build the fraud-o-mobile, it’s both striking and depressing. The project required a huge amount of time and effort, but it wasn’t the kind of sacrifice that should be admired or rewarded.

It isn’t flattery. It’s forgery. It’s the difference between a healthy relationship and a parasitic one.

As the Faux-rari shows us, counterfeiting continues to seep into every nook of the marketplace, including the realms we thought were too complicated to fake. By pushing their wares, the sham peddlers drain the life force of authentic craftspeople. They are able to do so not only because they are motivated and sinister, but because of the large appetite for cheap versions of coveted brands.

If we increase our understanding of the counterfeiting epidemic, we can reduce the appetite for sham goods. No matter how innocent it may seem, buying a fake just isn’t an option when you understand what’s required to produce it.

Don’t confuse the end product with what’s truly at stake. It’s an easy misstep to rank the dangers of certain counterfeit goods. While a bogus handbag might not seem as big a deal as a fake pill that contains none of its advertised active ingredients, we need to remember that this only considers the consumer’s point of view.

What about those who are truly abused by counterfeiting: humans forced to work in despicable conditions and children sold into these jobs who are later mangled by faulty machinery or broken by neglect?

We need to reorient ourselves. Let’s think less about what purchasing a fake does for us and, instead, consider the people hurt by these purchases. The consequences are bigger than a passing desire to find cheaper versions of things we love.

When human rights and creative vision are threatened, the stakes are just too high to obscure what’s really at stake.

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