The official statistics capture only a piece of the problem, companies and experts say, because so many counterfeiters market directly to customers on the Internet and many of those sales go undetected by the authorities.
“Online is much harder” to patrol and enforce, said Todd Kahn, general counsel for Coach, the handbag and accessories company.
That is particularly true for smaller brands, as Anna Corinna Sellinger, co-founder and creative director of the New York clothing and accessories company Foley & Corinna, learned.
A couple of years ago, she began checking out which Foley & Corinna items were selling on eBay. Her city tote, which now retails for $485, was a popular item, but on some listings “there was something off — it’s a color I never did, or a leather I never did,” she said.
As other sites proliferated, and Ms. Corinna Sellinger noticed more and more Internet fakes, she stopped looking altogether. “It’s just too frustrating,” she said. “You can try to do something, but it’s so big and so fast.”
While Ms. Corinna Sellinger basically had herself and a computer to patrol for fakes, big companies use legal teams who train customs officials on the nuances of their product, monitor the Web, ask Internet service providers to take down copycat sites and file lawsuits against sellers. (The brands only go after sellers; the law in the United States does not prohibit consumers from buying counterfeit products.)
Ugg Australia, the popular boot brand, developed a full enforcement program after it realized how prevalent copies of its boots were. In 2009, 60,000 pairs of boots were confiscated by customs agents globally, Ms. Evert-Burks said. In the same year, the company took down 2,500 Web sites selling fake products, along with 20,000 eBay listings and 150,000 listings on other trading sites like Craigslist and iOffer. That’s despite the relatively low price of real Ugg boots, which cost around $140 for a basic model.
Under similar programs, Versace won $20 million in a recent lawsuit against counterfeiters, while Gucci, Louis Vuitton and other luxury brands have been pursuing similar cases. Coach last year announced “Operation Turnlock,” in which it would file civil lawsuits against counterfeiters, and it has sued 230 times, Mr. Kahn said. At Liz Claiborne Inc., which owns brands like Juicy Couture and Kate Spade, the company has gone after 52 Web sites selling counterfeits, and removed 27,000 auction listings so far this year.
The lesson for many counterfeiters has been that they have a better chance of getting away with it if they copy smaller brands like Foley & Corinna — even though Foley & Corinna, while popular with celebrities and fashion types, is not widely recognized as a status brand and its bags can be had for as little as $126 on the brand’s own Web site.
“Once it’s out there a lot, people won’t even want the real one because then they’re like, ‘People are going to think it’s fake,’ ” Ms. Corinna Sellinger said. “It takes the product away from the designer.”