It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and other federal agents and officers went on a massive undercover shopping spree, not for fun, but to seek out and seize counterfeit merchandise sold by small businesses, stores, swap meets and flea markets. At the end of a week's time (Dec. 8-13), law enforcement officers seized 708,250 counterfeit products valued at more than $26 million in Operation Holiday Hoax as they "holiday shopped" in 41 U.S. cities.
On December 14, 2009, ICE officials, industry leaders, state and local law enforcement and the Government of Mexico joined together at the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR) in Arlington, Va., savoring the victory of the investigation's success. They tempered their messages with a sharp warning to the public that counterfeits goods are ubiquitous, and they pose safety hazards and economic woes to America's hard working men and women and a danger to the nation's economy in general.
Standing amid tables strewn with football jerseys, handbags, toys, DVDs, perfume, electronics and an assortment of merchandise, ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton said, "We are getting the word to consumers that counterfeits are everywhere. Even when the product itself is not dangerous, buying them harms the economy and the industries that create the real thing."
Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Department of Justice's Criminal Division said, "Intellectual property is one of this nation's most vital assets. As goods flow more freely between countries across the globe, protecting intellectual property has become even more critical to our economic security and to preserving America's role as a global leader in innovation."
"As an organization dedicated to protecting the safety of consumers around the globe, we find the proliferation of counterfeit, substandard products particularly troubling," said Gus Schaefer, Public Safety Officer, Underwriters Laboratories. "Everyone feels the effects of product counterfeiting - not only legitimate manufacturers and reputable retailers, but most importantly, consumers who are unaware of potential safety hazards in products where profit is the only priority. Today, we see how enforcement and partnership contributes to keeping all of us safer."
Music and entertainment industry leaders also praised the law enforcement initiative, citing how the illegal trafficking of pirated and counterfeit goods "is a breeding ground for other criminal activity" and steals the "hard earned wages" of men and women working in the movie and television industry.
The ICE-led IPR Center is one of the U.S. Government's key weapons in the fight against counterfeiting. Both law enforcement and the private sector are able to address the growing transnational threat of counterfeit merchandise through the IPR Center. The IPR Center coordinates outreach to U.S. rights holders and conducts domestic and international law enforcement training to stem the growing counterfeiting threat as well as coordinating and directing anti-counterfeiting investigations.
To learn more about the IPR Center, go here to link to the press release.