Homeland Security Investigations

As shoppers swarm stores and shop online for the best deals and the holiday shopping season officially kicks off this weekend, retailers and brands are looking to post their highest sales volumes of the year.

But it is also a peak time for sales of counterfeit goods, which is a $600 billion global market, according to the World Trademark Review. And according to law enforcement officials and brand protection firms, designer handbags and accessories are some of the most counterfeited goods offered in the market.

Phillips Nizer LLP partner Jeremy Richardson said consumers, retailers and brands can all be negatively impacted by the sales of counterfeit goods. Over the past decade, efforts to thwart the production of counterfeit goods has resulted in some wins. But online shopping and social media has reinvigorated the market — especially around the holidays, according to brand protection firm MarkMonitor.

Alan Behr, a partner at Phillips Nizer with practice areas that focus on intellectual property protection and trademark enforcement for fashion, luxury and general market brands, said “counterfeits are a fact of life in Asia, but efforts to stop them here [in the U.S.] have met with some success.”

For brands, Behr said “you have to monitor the big sites, such as Amazon and eBay, and work with them to have counterfeits taken down.” Behr offered some advice for consumers too: “If it looks too good to be true, it almost surely is.”

“If something is unusually cheap, especially if the origin is offshore, caveat emptor,” Behr said. “It will be quite difficult and expensive to return a counterfeit handbag, assuming the seller will even take it back.”

Behr shared some firsthand insights as an example. “A few years ago, I bought a Giorgio Armani tie from a prominent off-price New York retailer,” he explained. “It has the control tag and proper labels. The next time I was in the shop, another also bore the Armani control tag and label. I picked up another example of that necktie — same pattern, same color — and this time it had the Yves Saint Laurent label.”

Behr said he asked the staff about it, “and they speculated that both companies sold the same tie. Wrong. My earlier purchase and those two were all counterfeit. Only an expert would have known, but for the mistake of using different labels.”