Intellectual Property Crimes

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Counterfeiting poses a severe threat to the U.S. economy and workforce. Instances of intellectual property rights (IPR) thefts continue to grow in both magnitude and complexity. Counterfeit merchandise enters American communities every day. These items adversely affect local and state economies as well as the health and safety of our citizens. Typically, counterfeit items are not made to the same quality and safety specifications and therefore could adversely affect the healthy and/or safety of the consumer. Counterfeit products flood the supply chain with fake and potentially dangerous items while stealing from the rightful owners of trademarks. Criminals selling counterfeit goods often use big events like the All-Star game to trick consumers into buying high-priced, low quality fakes. Not only do these criminal networks rip off consumers, they have real consequences on the American economy.

The nature of IPR crime is also changing, with investigations uncovering links to organized crime and groups that support terrorism. Counterfeiting and piracy cost the U.S. economy between $200 billion to $250 billion per year, a total of 750,000 American jobs, and pose a threat to health and safety.

Here are six easy steps you can take to keep yourself safe from fakes.

  1. Scrutinize labels, packaging, and contents. There is no foolproof way to know the difference between a bargain and a fake, but labels and packaging can be revealing indicators. Look for missing or expired "use by" dates, broken or missing safety seals, missing warranty information, or otherwise unusual packaging. You can also verify authenticity, by comparing the manufacturer's contact information from another product's packaging, as addresses and phone numbers provided with counterfeit goods could be misleading.

  2. Seek authorized retailers.Companies often publish lists of authorized retailers online or within packaging materials. If you are uncertain whether a retailer acquired its products from a legitimate distributor, ask for verifiable information from the retailer about the source of the goods. Familiarize yourself with the suppliers of retail outlets and encourage your favorite stores to secure their supply chain.

  3. Watch for missing sales tax charges.Businesses trading in counterfeit goods often do not report their sales to financial authorities-a difference you may notice in the price you ultimately pay, particularly in states that collect sales taxes. If a purchase price does not appear to reflect the required sales tax or other fees, you should inquire further about the price and the source of that company's products before buying.

  4. Insist on secure transactions.Businesses should take certain basic steps to protect personal and financial information. Operations dealing in counterfeit products are likely to disregard the need to transmit and store customer data in a secure fashion. Avoid making a purchase if you are uncomfortable with the security of the transaction.

  5. Report questionable spam and faulty products.Consumers can play an important role in keeping the market free of fakes, by acting as a source of investigatory clues for U.S. brand owners. If you receive spam that directs you to a suspicious Web site, report the information to the brand owner and to the authorities. If you suspect you've purchased a counterfeit or pirated product, notify the brand owner in addition to contacting the place of purchase for exchange or reimbursement. Report unsafe products to the Consumer Product Safety Commission by calling 1-800-638-2772.

  6. Warn friends and family of illegitimate product sources.Word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to spread information about dangerous and defective products and those who sell them. By talking about this problem, you might also learn where your friends and family have found reliable, safe, affordable, and legitimate alternatives.