Learn about counterfeiting.

What is Counterfeiting?

A counterfeit is an imitation or a fake item that is usually created with the intent to deceptively represent its content or origins and increase the perceived value or appeal due to the reputation of the original product.

The word counterfeit most frequently describes forgeries of currency or documents, but can also describe clothing, software, pharmaceuticals, watches, or more recently, cars and motorcycles, especially when this results in patent infringement or trademark infringement.

All over the world, private individuals, gangs, and criminal organizations participate in the criminal activity of counterfeiting money and products. They illegally duplicate everything from handbags, to jewelry, to money for their own financial gain. The tools, technology, and processes used by these criminal organizations are becoming more and more sophisticated. Sometimes, even trained experts have a difficult time telling the real items from the fakes. This makes it increasingly difficult to identify counterfeited materials and even more difficult to trace the goods back to the producer.

Growing Demand for Knockoffs

The main reason behind the continued growth in fake products is there is a very strong demand for the products. Those who produce the fakes are able to make them more cheaply than the original manufacturers, so in turn, they are able to sell them at a deeply discounted price. Those who purchase the goods are sometimes not aware they are purchasing a knock-off, so they are quite happy with the greatly reduced price. In other cases, consumers are well-aware they are buying a knock-off, but they are fine with it because it looks very similar to the real thing.

As a result, the process continues to be a thriving industry. In 2013, the Department of Homeland Security confiscated over $1.7 billion in good at the U.S. Borders alone. This number doesn’t account for what may have slipped through undetected. Nor does it account for good pirated domestically and shipped and distributed within the United States.

What are the impacts?

There are a number of dangers involved with products produced by counterfeiters. First, they aren’t officially inspected by a government agency, so they may not be made up to standard and may have defects. Such products can cause physical harm, maybe even death to those who use them.

In addition, the illicit industry impacts the very cities in which they operate. For example, the “business” owners don’t pay federal, state, or city taxes. Also, the products may be made by children or teenagers who work in factories or warehouses that are unfit and unsafe.

Also, the industry often contributes to and supports organized crime organizations. Often, these organizations are involved with the manufacturing, distribution, and sale of goods. Down the line, the money received is often used for other criminal activities, such as to fund drug trafficking, prostitution, and even terrorist activity.

Preventing Counterfeiting

The Secret Service has exclusive jurisdiction for investigations involving the counterfeiting of United States obligations and securities. This authority to investigate counterfeiting is derived from Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 3056. Some of the counterfeited United States obligations and securities commonly dealt with by the Secret Service include:

  • U.S. currency and coins
  • U.S. Treasury checks
  • Department of Agriculture food coupons
  • U.S. postage stamps

The Secret Service remains committed to the mission of combating counterfeiting by working closely with state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as foreign law enforcement agencies, to aggressively pursue counterfeiters. To perform at the highest level, the Secret Service constantly reviews the latest reprographic/lithographic technologies to keep a step ahead of the counterfeiters. The Secret Service maintains a working relationship with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Federal Reserve System to ensure the integrity of our currency. Visit the website at U.S. Secret Service – Counterfeit Division.

Resources to Help Consumers

The website Counterfeit Detection will help you determine if those colorful pieces of paper are worth the paper they are printed on, whether it is Dollars, Pounds, Euros, .etc. All banknotes are produced in a similar way and result in a similar set of characteristics. They also have security measures built into them which make them difficult to reproduce. However, it is not possible to produce a counterfeit-proof anything and there will always be individuals producing fakes.

Michael Kissiah is the owner of Brandy Lane Publishing, LLC, which owns and operates a small portfolio of websites, including Michael created more than 20 years ago after working as a private investigator in the state of Florida. Since that time, he has become an expert at how to find information online and has written over 1000 articles on topics related to the investigation industry. In addition, he is the author of the "Private Investigator Licensing Handbook", available at


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