Faked Out in Times Square

Do you trust your medicines? Your smoke detectors? Your brake pads?

Are you sure?

On Tuesday, a team from the Chamber’s Global Intellectual Property Center (GIPC) visited New York City for the debut of a consumer awareness video ad airing in Times Square aimed at drawing attention to the problem of counterfeit goods. While we were in town, we interviewed passersby about the ad’s content. Their comments solidified the importance of spreading the word about the dangers of fakes.

Our conversations revealed three key points:

Fake goods are tough to spot

We showed people a series of real and counterfeit products, asking them to determine the fake. Some savvy consumers looked carefully at the stitching of handbags, others honed in on the quality of holograms on golf ball boxes, and one even noticed that a fake extension cord was missing a required stamp. But for every hawkeyed interviewee, there was at least one who got it wrong. It’s not that the latter half was missing something obvious; it’s that these were frighteningly good fakes. Knowing how difficult it was to distinguish between the goods when you could touch and see them in person, it is exponentially more difficult to determine if a counterfeit product is being sold online.

Fake goods harm the global economy

Most of the people we talked to believed that they had never purchased a fake product—and that may be the case—but the counterfeiting industry costs the global economy $250 billion a year. Add in piracy of things like DVDs and music, and that number skyrockets to $650 billion a year. In the U.S. alone, these counterfeiters and pirates are threatening more than 55 million jobs and one-third of GDP that relies on the success of America’s innovative and creative industries. While there are ongoing efforts to stop counterfeiting and piracy, the Times Square ad campaign is aimed at making consumers more aware of the consequences of this pervasive problem.

Fake goods present real dangers

When asked what goods they thought might be most frequently faked, most people we encountered named luxury items like handbags, watches, clothing, and perfume. They’re absolutely right, but that’s only a small piece of the counterfeiting business.  Many were surprised to learn that things like toothpaste and brake pads are also counterfeited, oftentimes at an inferior quality. They were shocked to find out that fake baby cribs and smoke detectors are out there. And while there was some awareness of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, they were astonished to discover that only 4% of online pharmacies operate legitimately.

Make no mistake—fake goods pose very real dangers. Organized criminals are deceiving consumers into purchasing products that are shoddy in construction, do not meet international safety regulations, and could be potentially lethal. One new mom we spoke with said she had purchased a car seat for her child online only to receive it and find out it was counterfeit. She learned the hard way that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

It has become increasingly clear that there is a general need to educate the public on the harms of counterfeits to American public health as well as economic vitality.

The Times Square ad will be running through September 30. Stop by 42nd and 8th if you’re in the neighborhood and see if you can spot it. For more information, please visit www.dangerousfakes.com.

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