U.S. Customs and Border Protection is one of the leading Federal agencies responsible for stopping counterfeit products from entering the United States. U.S. Customs does a good job seizing counterfeit products at ports around the country on a daily basis. These counterfeit products vary from sunglasses to handbags to pharmaceuticals to footwear. But U.S. Customs’ press releases always use an unrealistic, inflated number when describing the value of the seized merchandise.
For example, last week in San Francisco, U.S. Customs allegedly seized $100 million counterfeit Gucci, Dooney & Bourke, and various other illegally trademarked merchandise from the Fisherman’s Wharf area. It was originally reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, then appeared on the Associated Press wire to the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, and other newspapers around the country. The Chronicle stated in part:
On Tuesday, they announced the seizure of more than 200,000 counterfeit retail items valued at $100 million – if they were genuine, that is – during what they called the largest-ever bust of retail counterfeiters on the West Coast.
Note the words, “if they were genuine, that is.” U.S. Customs uses the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP), which nobody pays, in reporting the value of the seized merchandise to the press. So, for example, a blatantly counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbag that would have been sold to a customer at Fisherman’s Wharf for $50 may be reported by U.S. Customs to be valued at $1,000, a multiple of 20 times the selling price.
Customs does a good job at identifying, intercepting, and seizing counterfeit merchandise – something it refers to as a “priority trade issue.” Know, however, that the value U.S. Customs places on the seized counterfeit merchandise is almost always much higher than you and I would pay, even for the real thing.