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L.A. Beat

A bargain may not be a bargain, it may be a fake

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If you can buy it, somebody can counterfeit it and if you buy a  counterfeit, it could kill you. That may be an extreme conclusion to come from the opening  day of the Galt Museum’s new exhibit Fakes and Forgeries: Yesterday and Today, but the main message Lethbridge Regional Police  Service Community Liaison Officer Blaine Stodolka wanted to leave with a handful of fascinated listeners, Dec. 18, is if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It is also more likely to be a counterfeit product.Cst. Blaine Stodolka stands by a case of fake merchandise. Photo by Richard Amery

“The best way to tell, is if the price is too good to be true,” Stodolka said before his presentation at the museum, adding he didn’t know how big a problem selling counterfeit goods was in Lethbridge, though, there was the possibility of it being huge.
“It’s a matter of is it being enforced? There’s time commitment and resources,” he continued adding the police investigate complaints of counterfeit consumer goods, but don’t actively go through stores looking for them.

He said consumers should carefully examine labels. If they look poor quality and are full of spelling errors, and don’t have a contact name or address, they may be counterfeited goods.

As well, items like hockey helmets and day to day items like fire extinguishers and extension cords must undergo rigorous safety testing and are marked with a Canadian Standards Association test sticker marking they have passed the test.

Counterfeiters usually won’t bother trying to reproduce these stickers and seals, or, for that matter, making sure the packaging looks professional and well designed.

“Corporations  spend millions of dollars making sure packaging and labels look good, but it costs counterfeiters time and money and they just want to get them out as fast as possible,” he said showing a video of a counterfeit fire extinguisher, which wouldn’t actually put out a fire.

While selling counterfeit goods is often viewed as a victimless crime, it not only costs taxpayers and consumers  about $22 million a year in lost income and sometimes jobs, in the case of counterfeit cords, fire extinguishers and drugs, not to mention counterfeit auto parts, the price can be a lot higher.

“It’s a matter of life and death,” he continued, showing an RCMP slide of a car accident resulting from the driver installing counterfeit brake pads. He noted the most serious counterfeited items found in Lethbridge were  substandard extension cords, which can catch fire or set your house on fire if too much electricity is put through them.

“Especially at Christmas time when people are using a lot of extension cords,” he said adding another sign of a counterfeit or cheap knock off is if you don’t recognize the brand name, or if there is no brand name.

“It doesn’t mean they are counterfeit, but it is possible,” he said adding the enforcement is a challenge.
“We’ll investigate it if it comes to our attention,” he said adding tracking counterfeit goods is difficult, however retailers who knowingly  sell counterfeited goods can be charged with mischief, while counterfeiters can actually face a counterfeiting charge.

“It takes some digging to find out where they come from. It’s usually easier to use those sellers as a witness (than to charge them with mischief,) ” he continued adding because of the lack of resources, counterfeit goods is a prosperous  business.

He noted software pirates can make $1.9 million a year, but if they’re caught only face a $67,000 fine. He noted a lot of counterfeit goods are sold online as well as at Bargain and Dollar Stores plus flea markets.
“There probably isn’t a product that is not counterfeited,” he told the audience.
“It is high profit and low, low risk for them.”

Fakes and Forgeries; YEsterday and Today is on display until April 10.

—By Richard Amery, L.A Beat Editor
A version of this story appears in the Jan. 22 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times
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