December 9, 2013 8:38:03 AM
JACKSON -- Mississippi authorities are making it a priority to target criminals who are roving Mississippi selling counterfeit goods like fake Louis Vuitton purses, Coach handbags and Nike caps.
Law enforcement officials tell The Clarion-Ledger counterfeit items cost manufacturers of those products hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in sales in Mississippi alone. Retailers lose $225 billion nationally to such items.
And those selling the bogus goods can be elusive.
"Sometimes, they have mobile fronts. They're here today, gone tomorrow," says Patrick Beasley, who heads the consumer protection division of the state attorney general's office. "They can set up one day and take it down the next day."
And holiday shopping season could prove fertile ground for counterfeiters to make off with thousands of dollars in sales as general demand hits its yearly peak.
Such goods, which also include pirated versions of movies and video games, often are made overseas and shipped into the U.S.
Beasley says many people who sell drugs and are involved with other illicit activity are turning to selling bogus merchandise as another revenue stream. Brand names with widespread recognition are commonly used by counterfeiters to fetch top dollar from customers and the largest possible amount of buyers.
So far this fiscal year, which began July 1, the AG's office and local law enforcement have seized 2,496 counterfeit goods with a total estimated street value of $514,000. Last fiscal year, law enforcement seized 18,000-plus items with a total street value of $491,000.
Beasley credits the drop in seized items not only to diligent work by his investigators and law enforcement officers but retailers and customers increasingly realizing how serious a crime counterfeiting merchandise is.
Attorney General Jim Hood has focused on education as much as enforcement to crack down on bogus merchandise, he says.
"What you can't quantify is the deterrent effect -- law enforcement, parents talking to their children. We've changed the way we think" about the problem of selling counterfeit merchandise, Hood said in August.
But he and others combating bogus merchandise realize Mississippi is a state ripe for counterfeit goods since much of the population is poor and doesn't live near a major shopping center. People in those areas could be lured by the thought of owning a North Face jacket, Coach purse or Nike sneakers without having to leave their hometowns or even their houses, , even if they can't readily distinguish between legitimate versions of those brands or knockoffs.
This was spelled out last month when Senatobia police, along with state and federal authorities, arrested the owner of a store in that city where alleged bogus versions of brand-name clothing, cologne and other items were found. The potential street value of what was seized wasn't immediately available.
"We haven't had anything like this happen before," said Senatobia Police Chief Steve Holts.
Authorities say the incident in Senatobia is just one of a problem that can be found around Mississippi.