A fake economy: the world's fastest growing crime wave.

Position:Book Review

Knock Off

The Deadly Trade in Counterfeiting

By Tim Phillips

[pounds sterling]16.99 Kogan Page

ISBN 0-7494-43790


In the introduction to this book, author Tim Phillips writes that "measuring the amount of counterfeiting there is in the world is impossible, because we only know about the counterfeits that get caught". Of course, this kind of argument can also be levelled at practically all other types of criminal activity because perpetrators are hardly going to report their crimes and their victims may not even notice their losses or be too embarrassed or intimidated to register these crimes with the relevant authorities.

Despite the uncertainty over the true extent of counterfeiting, Phillips makes some quite extraordinary claims. He describes counterfeiting as a crime wave out of control, worth more than $500bn or, expressed another way, between 7% and 10% of the world's total trade. He also claims that the world's counterfeiting business has grown 100-fold in the last two decades and represents a quite extraordinary threat to practically everybody.

At the start of the book, readers might be forgiven for thinking that Phillips is only interested in how US shoppers are being tempted into buying what Americans call 'knock-offs'--counterfeits of luxury items designed by the world's leading fashion houses--or how Chinese manufacturers have made it their business to replicate many of the world's most famous consumer items.

For example, he takes us to New York's 'Counterfeit Alley', a block of warehouses between 5th and 6th Avenues cut through by the diagonal of Broadway. Here, in one of the world's most advanced and sophisticated cities, is the centre of the US counterfeit industry where shoes, sportswear, handbags, luxury goods, mobile phones and much else is for sale. They are all marked with fashionable brand names, but they are all counterfeits.

Business is conducted in much the same way as drug dealers conduct their trade on the streets. On a Friday night or Saturday, the district just hums with buyers and sellers doing business in a lucrative, flourishing and illegal trade.

Samples are provided, deals are done and the goods delivered for cash. Even though the buying and selling is fairly blatant, law enforcement officials have a difficult time bringing prosecutions. That is because, Phillips explains, in New York there is simply no limit where possession of counterfeit goods becomes possession with intent to...

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