I was naïve the first time that I had shopped on Canal Street in Manhattan. I wasn’t aware that children, sometimes chained, made counterfeit purses in China and were paid a pittance. I also didn’t know that I would mingle with purse thieves, pickpockets, con men, con women, gang members, human traffickers, and counterfeiters wanted by Homeland Security.
Canal Street whirled with activity the day my daughter and I shopped for a faux-designer purse for her. Shoppers ducked in and out of stores haggling over prices for counterfeit designer merchandise: watches, bags, sunglasses, perfume, electronic equipment, jewelry, clothing and more. Everyone wanted a deal.
Two women stood in front of a merchandise-packed store and whispered to us, “Gucci, Gucci, Prada?” Why were they whispering? Were the police around?
My daughter said, “Coach.”
The women whisked us through the store between shabby curtains and down dirty basement steps. Gucci, Prada, Coach, Hermes, Channel, Louis Vuitton were a sampling of their counterfeit wares that loaded the room. Many of these bags sold on Canal Street for under $100, but if the bags were genuine, they would retail in the hundreds and some in the thousands. Luckily, my daughter couldn’t find what she wanted, and we left.
As we headed down the street, another vendor hustled us. I heard, “Channel? Loui Vuitton?”
My daughter said “Coach.”
The woman said, “Follow me.”
She walked ahead of us for several blocks while talking on a walkie-talkie and approached a man and told us to follow him. We walked a few blocks, and he handed us off to another man. We followed him for several blocks, and he turned down an alley. I was concerned that they didn’t want us to recognize them, but now I was worried. I tried to get my daughter’s attention who was right on the man’s heels and didn’t seem to think twice about following him down an alley.
He approached a blue van, opened the hatch, and before I knew it, my daughter had climbed in the back. I imagined someone slamming the door, and the van taking off. I believe that I would’ve been too stunned to get the tag number.
Suppose they trafficked her?
“Get out of there now!” I said.
She reluctantly left the van. A man who had watched this scene approached and said that he was worried when he saw my daughter enter the truck because he knew that the police were surveilling the street for gangs who controlled the counterfeit, drug and human trafficking markets.
How does counterfeiting work?
Alice Hines in the Village Voice wrote about a 2012 case when a group of criminals purchased legitimate designer goods and shipped them to China. Months later, counterfeit designer boots, purses, and coats arrived in the U.S.
Mills in China manufacture bags for less than $2 each and they sell them to distributors for $10 – $30. They ship them to the U.S. hidden among other merchandise, or they mislabel them. Street vendors sell them for $50 – $100 per item. Most vendors are impoverished, and some are homeless. They sell their wares on the streets from trash bags, suitcases, cars or vans, or from stores or warehouses. The higher-tier criminals can make millions.
Why Don’t They Arrest Them?
If caught, street vendors are arrested and fined, though they could get a year in prison, they often return to the streets. The maximum jail term is four years for counterfeit possession valued at $1,000 or more, and 15 years for $100,000. Also, it is not illegal for the customers to buy fakes.
Fake designer perfume seems to be the riskiest item for consumers because bottles may contain chemicals like antifreeze. In spring 2016, Homeland Security confiscated a shipment headed to retailers and online sites.
The best bet is to buy your merchandise from a reputable dealer or do without. That’s my plan.
Below are the links that I used for my article: