By Captain James Callaway, PoliceOne Member
We’ve all been on patrol and seen a guy selling DVDs, CDs, or clothing out of the trunk of his car at a corner gas station. You may pull up and tell him to leave, or you may ignore it. I must admit I was the same way until I learned the concepts and impacts of counterfeiting.
There are all sorts of items that are being counterfeited. Anything from movies that are still in theaters to music before it is released into the market. Jeans, purses, coats, shoes, iPads, and iPhones are just a few other examples.
During the last 20 years we’ve seen a steady increase in intellectual property (IP) crimes. There has been a tremendous lack of enforcement and education on these matters to law enforcement. There is an underlying thought that this is a victimless crime, and that the big money companies that are counterfeited already have enough money. As law enforcement professionals, we have to change our thoughts on that. I will give you several reasons why.
A portion of the financing for the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 was provided by counterfeiting. Any time you deal with large amounts of money and quick returns, you typically have a criminal element involved. Counterfeiting and piracy provide a profit margin that is actually higher than narcotics trafficking. I have personally seen drug traffickers leave the business and enter into trafficking counterfeit goods. I have seen gang members get into the business as well.
The reason is very simple. There’s a lot of money to be made, and overall enforcement is lacking. State laws have been changing across the nation to address these issues.
Here in Georgia, it can be a felony offense depending on the amount of counterfeit goods. When I train officers on this topic, I ask them; if they stop a car on the interstate with four kilos of cocaine, do they let the person and vehicle go? The answer is always a resounding no. Then I tell them they are essentially doing this when they do not properly investigate violations of counterfeiting.
There is also a health aspect to these cases. We’ve worked counterfeit pharmaceutical cases on Craigslist for drugs such as Viagra and Cialis. We had no issues getting someone to meet us in a public place to sell us thousands of counterfeit pills. Once analyzed, it was found that these pills contained harmful ingredients, such as paint. These counterfeit pills were sent into the United States from China.
We have seized numerous vehicles and hundreds of thousands in cash for violations of intellectual property. These cases can be worked in the same manner as interstate interdiction and narcotics/gang investigations.
This is also an effective tool to dismantle criminal organizations such as street gangs. I certainly encourage you to seek further training in your state on counterfeiting and violations of intellectual property crimes and making yourself aware of your state law.
About the Author
Captain Callaway is the Western Region Vice President for the Georgia Gang Investigator’s Association. Callaway works in the Greater Metropolitan Atlanta Area. Contact Captain Callaway at firstname.lastname@example.org