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Counterfeit Airbags, Counterfeit Booze, Counterfeit... Prunes?

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The global market in fakes has been pegged at $650 billion annually. Can it ever be stopped?

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Buying Fakes Couldn't Be Easier

Have access to a computer? You, too, can be in the counterfeiting business.

Last summer, I performed a little experiment and headed over to NewportsCigarettes.org (now apparently shut down) which advertised "Perfect American Cigarettes for You," and assured potential buyers:

"We care of our customers and and offer the quality products they may need. You can see an extensive assortment of cigarettes on our website."

The extensive assortment included (ostensibly without the approval of the attorneys general of the states involved) not only counterfeit smokes, but counterfeit smokes with counterfeit tax stamps for pretty much any state you'd like -- just a FedEx shipment away.

I clicked the "Live Help" button and I was chatting with a representative on the other side of the planet far faster than I have ever in my life been able to get a Verizon rep on the phone.

The following is our full, unedited conversation:

you 2011-6-14 11:0:23
hello

SalerN0.1(9108666) 2011-06-14 22:59:15
hi

you 2011-6-14 11:0:39
how long for shipment from china to united states?

SalerN0.1(9108666)2011-06-14 22:59:35
4-7days,friend

you 2011-6-14 11:0:57
tax stamp for any state available?

SalerN0.1(9108666)2011-06-14 23:00:10
which state do u need?

you 2011-6-14 11:1:34
ny, nj, florida, california, michigan

SalerN0.1(9108666)2011-06-14 23:00:46
no problem,we have all of them

you 2011-6-14 11:2:15
and it comes from china direct to united states?

SalerN0.1(9108666)2011-06-14 23:01:30
yes,friend

you 2011-6-14 11:3:11
no problem with customs?

SalerN0.1(9108666)2011-06-14 23:02:15
no problem,we can guarantee the delivery

you 2011-6-14 11:3:47
and the stamps look real?

SalerN0.1(9108666)2011-06-14 23:02:51
sure

you 2011-6-14 11:4:32
what is the next step for delivery? make a purchase on your website?

SalerN0.1(9108666)2011-06-14 23:04:18
yeh,you can order on our website directly,and then we will ship it out in 24 hours

As always, buyer beware. The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project says lab tests have shown counterfeit cigarettes from China to contain "80% more nicotine and 130% more carbon monoxide," and "impurities that include insect eggs and human feces."

An Uphill Battle

Interestingly, the counterfeit market can impact legitimate industry more permanently than the simple siphoning off of short-term sales.

As one police officer in Yunxiao, China, told a reporter from Slate a few years ago, "For a long time now, a lot of Yunxiao's [counterfeit] cigarettes have gone to Russia. The feedback from Russian customers is that they've gotten used to the fake flavor, and now they don't want the real ones anymore."

Shut down the counterfeit trade in one area, it moves to another. Get rid of one counterfeit product, another brand gets ripped off tomorrow. Where there is money to be made, there are those who will find a way to get it.

As for the strangest fake ever seen? From what I've seen, nothing has yet topped this, from attorney Harley Lewin, in a 2004 interview with Bob Simon of 60 Minutes:

"We had prunes the other day. Fake prunes," he said. "Coming from China to Thailand."

Follow Justin Rohrlich on Twitter: @chickenalaking
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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