The most counterfeited products in America

This counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbag was seized in October 2012 at the Port of New York/New Jersey by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
This counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbag was seized in October 2012 at the Port of New York/New Jersey by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.U.S. Customs and Border Protection

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By Samuel Weigley

The American economy loses $250 billion as a result of counterfeit products each year, according to a recent report. Despite the impact, only a fraction can be detected and confiscated by the government.

Approximately $1.26 billion worth of counterfeit goods originating overseas were seized by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in 2012. Each seizure averaged $10,450 worth of counterfeit goods. The three most confiscated items in 2012 were handbags and wallets; watches and jewelry; and wearing apparel and accessories. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the most counterfeit items seized in 2012, based on their retail value.

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The value and the number of seizures changes dramatically each year due to the products sold and the success of CBP operations. The value of handbags and wallets seized in 2012 rose 142 percent compared to the previous year. Therese Randazzo, the director of the Intellectual Property Policy and Programs Division for the CBP, explained that CBP officials may seize knockoffs of more expensive brands in one year than in another.

The value of product seizures also fluctuate as a result of different methods of smuggling counterfeits into the U.S., which ultimately impact what products get seized.

Only a decade ago, most counterfeit goods were shipped from overseas via large containers and then sold in the country. An increase in online shopping has changed that, Randazzo told 24/7 Wall St. Now, counterfeiters are selling these items through websites and shipping them directly to the consumer, making it that much harder to track and seize. To combat the new techniques, the CBP has begun targeting and shutting down websites that facilitate these transactions.

It is important that federal enforcement agencies account for the online shift in the counterfeiting market, Lev Kubiak, director of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, said in a statement. “Attacking criminal activity at every point along the international supply chain, to include websites, manufacturers, shippers and shipping routes, border entry points, distribution networks and payment methods, is critical to" CBP and Homeland Security Investigations enforcement efforts, he said.

More of these counterfeits originate from mainland China than any other country in the world. This is due in part to the fact that China is the largest manufacturer of so many products -- most of which are made cheaply. Adding to this, enforcement of intellectual property is also particularly weak in the country. Hong Kong, Singapore, India and Taiwan rounded out the top five countries of origination for counterfeits seized by CBP.

While it is an effective measure of government activity, the report fails to capture the full-scale of counterfeits in the U.S. This is because the CBP does not include seizures of items originating in the U.S., digital piracy, and counterfeits that are not seized. In the case of software piracy, for example, counterfeiting costs U.S. companies billions alone in lost revenue. However, because the CBP does not measure digital transmission, which represents the vast majority of software piracy, the scale of the theft is underrepresented.

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Based on information provided by the CBP, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the most counterfeited items seized by officials based upon the manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP). We also looked at the number of times the item was confiscated in both 2012 and 2011. We also looked at the top five countries of origination for all items seized to reflect how much of each item came from a particular country.

These are the most counterfeited products in America.

1. Handbags/Wallets

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Value: $511.2 million

Pct. of total seizure value: 40 percent

Handbags and wallets were by far the most counterfeited item in terms of MSRP, with the total value of the seizures up 142.2 percent compared to 2011. The CBP credits a portion of the large growth in seizures to “successful interagency-coordinated enforcement operations,” including Operation Market Day, which was primarily a sting operation coordinated in conjunction with U.S. Immigration and Customs. Of the approximately $511 million worth of handbags and wallets seized in 2012, more than $446 million worth originated in China.

2. Watches/Jewelry

Value: $187.0 million

Pct. of total seizure value: 15 percent

Roughly $187 million worth of watches and jewelry was seized in 2012, up from $173 million in 2011. The number of seizures of watches and jewelry by the CBP grew to 2,197 in 2012, up from 1,491 in 2011. The country most responsible for these counterfeit items was China, with $91.3 million in retail value seized by the federal government. In addition, 98 percent of counterfeit items smuggled from Singapore were watches and jewelry, with an estimated MSRP of $9.2 million. Randazzo noted that Singapore has a large jewelry industry, which naturally leads to many counterfeits originating from that country.

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3. Wearing Apparel/Accessories

Value: $133.0 million

Pct. of total seizure value: 11 percent

Counterfeit clothing and accessories were the most seized items in 2012, comprising more than 7,800, or about 29 percent of all seizures. Randazzo said that knockoff jerseys of a team winning an event such as the Super Bowl frequently get seized by CBP. The number of clothing seizures in 2012 was down from the nearly 8,100 back in 2011, which then totaled $142.3 million in retail value. Of such seizures in 2012, more than $97 million originated from China.

4. Consumer Electronics/Parts

Value: $104.4 million

Pct. of total seizure value: 8 percent

Consumer electronics represented 8 percent of the total value of items seized in 2012 compared to 10 percent in the previous year. An estimated $71.5 million worth of consumer electronics originating in China were seized in 2012, comprising 8 percent of the total value of all items from the country. Of all counterfeit products originating from Hong Kong, consumer electronics were the most seized, comprising 1,943, or 23 percent, of all seized items from the country. Randazzo said that the seizure of knock-offs such as smartphones and tablets has risen exponentially in the last couple of years.

5. Footwear

Value: $103.4 million

Pct. of total seizure value: 8 percent

The value of only five seized products in the country exceeded $100 million in 2012, and shoes marks the first of the five. The federal government seized more than $103 million worth of footwear in 2012 in nearly 1,900 seizures. While most of the footwear that was seized used to be athletic shoes, Randazzo said that knock-offs of higher end, dress shoes are becoming more common. The vast majority of footwear seized in 2012 originated in China. In fact, 10 percent of the total value of goods seized from the country was footwear, higher than all but two other products.

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