You may think of counterfeit goods as being sold on street corners, out of car trunks and at flea markets ... but what about at your local mall?
It's happening, and few can attest to that better than Kris Buckner, a private investigator who specializes in tracking down counterfeit merchandise through his company, Investigative Consultants.
"You can look at us as sort of the 'counterfeit cops,'" Buckner said.
"Nightline" came along as Buckner and police in Orange County, Calif., raided a store allegedly selling counterfeit goods in, of all places, a luxury mall. Police arrested the store manager, who was accused of selling phony luxury brands such as Dior, Prada and Dolce & Gabana merchandise, as well as a huge stash of True Religion jeans, which had been "on sale" at the store for $199.
Buckner works for the brands themselves. In the case of the Orange County bust, Bucker's client was True Religion.
"Anything that the cops do to investigate regular crimes, we're really doing here at our company for those brand owners we represent," Buckner said. "Brand owners don't call 911 to report counterfeiting. That wouldn't be fair. They'd suck the resources of law enforcement."
Investigative Consultants is one of just a few companies around the country that do this special kind of work, and sometimes the brands themselves house their own special units to track counterfeiting.
Protecting More Than Brands
Police say, however, that the damage inflicted by counterfeiting extends beyond the luxury brands whose goods are being duped.
"We notice that several gang members, organized crime and some terrorist groups are associated with distributing, manufacturing counterfeit goods. Now all this money is funding other criminal activities. That's why we're in this," said Sgt. Rick Ishitani, head of the Los Angeles Police Department Economic Crimes Unit. "It's not so much the Rolex, Gucci, the Chanel. They are technically our victims, but the real mission is to take down criminals."
When Buckner brings a case to police, he says he works to ensure it's something worthwhile.
"Our job is to bring them something that they really will evaluate and the hope would be that they will take action. And I will tell you that the majority of the cases we do get prosecuted," he said. "In this economy, we don't want to waste their time."