Harper's Bazaar, eBay, Levi's, and More Tackle Counterfeiting

diane von furstenberg anticounterfeiting summit
Photo: Kristen Somody Whalen
Valerie Salembier and Diane von Furstenberg at the anti-counterfeiting summit.

New York City just introduced an aggressive new anti-counterfeiting bill that holds serious consequences for anyone caught purchasing fake goods in NYC—a fine of $1,000 or even jail time. While public reactions to the new policy seem to range from annoyance to indifference, the response at Harper's Bazaar's 8th Annual Fakes Are Never in Fashion Anticounterfeiting Summit, held April 27, couldn't have been more supportive.

“It's great for New York City,” said Harper's Bazaar's SVP/publisher Valerie Salembier, who organized the event. “If you head to Chinatown to get your $50 Vuitton handbag, and you're slapped with a $1,000 fine—you're not going to do it again.” She compared the new policy favorably to the strict counterfeit regulations France has long held in place.

“There, you can go to jail or be fined up to 360,000 euros,” she said. “Needless to say, there's not a huge counterfeiting problem in France.”

Frank Abagnale—the reformed ex-con turned counterfeit authority whose troubled life is well documented in the Oscar-nominated film Catch Me If You Can—served as the event's keynote speaker and encouraged the crackdown.

“Buying fake goods is the same as buying stolen goods,” he declared, an assertion that seemed to echo the sentiments of everyone else on the panel, including eBay's Alan Marks, Portero's Susan Engel, and Levi Strauss & Co.'s Thomas M. Onda.

Discussion focused on the ways in which online retailers combat online counterfeit crimes.

EBay—which boasts over 200 million active listings every day—relies on its Verified Rights Owners program to weed out fake goods.

“If a rights owner sees a counterfeit listing, we take it down—usually within four hours,” Marks explained. New algorithms instantly track “red flag” listings—such as those with ambiguous contact information and/or suspicious product origins (often Nigeria or China).

Portero, a luxury retailer specializing in Birkin handbags and other high-end goods, relies mainly on staff expertise. “Our handbag lady knows every nuance of every bag ever made; she even took courses on how to make fake handbags—she can't be fooled,” said Engel.

But bags aren't actually the biggest target for knockoffs. Shoes are—specifically, sneakers. “New York City had a huge crackdown on fake Nike production not long ago,” Salembier said.

Engel agreed, joking that her neighborhood cobbler now will install red “Louboutin-like” soles onto any women's shoe—even the most localized tiers of the fashion market are infiltrated by counterfeit culture.

As fake merchandise becomes more sophisticated, price points become less suspicious. Engel mentioned that a friend purchased a pair of Jimmy Choos online for a “reasonable but not unrealistic $300.” Upon delivery, it was clear they were fake. “She didn't do enough research.” Engel said.

She explained that any legitimate retailer will provide “thorough, unambiguous” contact information, as well as company history. “If they don't have a phone number listed—that's not a good sign.” 

The takeaway message from the event was that consumers must be vigilant and use common sense—and to think about where their money is going.

“We need a strong public service campaign,” Abagnale concluded. “Consumers need to know that contributing to counterfeit culture contributes to much darker things—like terrorism. People might not realize that lives are literally at stake here.”