A Ghanaian entrepreneur thinks he has the answer to Africa’s fake medicine problem ... Drug Lane runs through a market in the heart of Accra, Ghana. It’s past the office towers going up to the east of the central business district, past the pushy vendors with fake Louis Vuitton luggage, and past the women selling trays of raw beef under the midday sun. The alley bristles with signboards for pills, powders, and other substances. One store is packed to the rafters with boxes of painkillers and antibiotics. On the wall are two posters: One is for Coartem, a malaria treatment made by the Swiss drug company Novartis, and the other advertises something called Recharger, supposedly made from the male silkworm moth. ... Like 85 percent of the people selling medicine in Ghana, he isn’t a pharmacist. Most of his stock comes from China, India, and Malaysia, imported by Ghanaian distributors who supply everyone from “licensed chemical sellers” like him to actual pharmacies and hospitals. It’s a system so porous that as many as one in three medicines sold on Drug Lane could be counterfeit, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared with about 1 percent in the U.S. and Europe. The fake drugs often have no active ingredient at all, or just enough to pass quality-control tests, and visually they can be indistinguishable from the real thing. ... MPedigree sells software that manufacturers use to label individual packs of medication with a random 12-digit code hidden under a scratch-off panel on the packaging. When a person buys medicine, she can text the code to MPedigree for free and get an instant reply telling her whether the product is authentic.
Without question, attempting to pass off a counterfeit Rembrandt was an incredibly brazen move on Ely Sakhai’s part. But brazen he was, and he did have a certain advantage in his scheme: the legitimate ownership of the authentic painting that he had his artists copy. The authenticity of his Rembrandt, The Apostle James, was not questioned. Nor was the fact that it was purchased by Ely Sakhai from a reputable source. So when he would offer what he purported to be the painting for sale, it didn’t raise questions about authenticity, if only because those interested in the painting perhaps failed to imagine the nefarious scheme of the seller. Thanks in large measure to his travels in the Far East with his wife, Sakhai made it his mission to establish a steady clientele in Tokyo and Taiwan too. and in June 1997, he sold his Rembrandt to the Japanese businessman and art collector Yoichi Takeuchi. ... Call it karma or serendipity, but Sakhai would be undone by circumstances as simple as his scheme was complex. Not content to simply make enormous profits on the fakes he sold to unsuspecting buyers, Sakhai’s greed led him to sell the original authentic works too.
The financial crisis has fuelled a huge expansion of organised crime in Europe with 3,600 criminal syndicates now active across the continent, profiting even from such prosaic products as household detergents, the head of Europol has warned. … Rob Wainwright, director of the EU’s crime-fighting agency, said Europe’s black market in counterfeit foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals and machine parts doubled to a value of about €2bn in the early years of the recession. … The groups are profiting from an increased demand for cheap goods and finding ways to cash in on EU member states’ attempts to boost tax revenues … a new breed of cyber criminals in Russia, Ukraine and other parts of eastern Europe are carrying out increasingly sophisticated online attacks on financial services groups. … In the UK, for instance, the VAT rate increased in early 2011 from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent, making any fake claim on this tax instantly more profitable. VAT fraud is now estimated to be worth €100bn a year across Europe.
No one knows for sure why some societies are more innovative than others. The United States is a highly inventive society, the source of a host of technologies -- the airplane, the atomic bomb, the Internet -- that have transformed the world. Modern China, by contrast, is frequently criticized for its widespread copying of foreign inventions and creative works. Once the home of gunpowder, printing, and other transformational inventions, China is today better known for its knockoffs of almost every imaginable product: cars, clothes, computers, fast food, movies, pharmaceuticals, even entire European villages. The United States gave the world the iPhone; China gave it the HiPhone -- a cheap facsimile of a groundbreaking American gadget. ... Some see deep cultural roots to the pervasiveness of copying in China. But a more common view is that China fails to innovate because it lacks strong and stable protections for intellectual property. ... But American anxiety and anger over Chinese piracy are misplaced. Copying is not the plague that American business leaders and politicians often make it out to be. In fact, far from always being an enemy of innovation, copying is often a critical part of creativity. Although copying has a destructive side, it also has a productive side. Nearly all creations rest on prior work, and the ability to freely copy and refine existing designs fuels fields as varied as fashion, finance, and software. Copying can also foster stronger competition, grow markets, and build brands.
Thanks to a process involving rapid evaporative ionisation mass spectrometry (Reims), developed at Imperial College London, the computer can identify the smoke’s unique “molecular fingerprint”. This £500,000 machine, together with another £5m-worth of equipment in the Belfast-based Institute for Global Food Security, have inspired the lab’s nickname “Star Trek”, as it boldly pushes technological frontiers in the battle against food crime. The only other Reims machine in the UK is at Charing Cross Hospital, London, where it is used by the oncology department to distinguish between healthy and malign tissue. Here, the machine is being asked to make a formal identification of the fish fillet: is it cod? Or is it something else? ... food analysis is inching ever closer to forensic investigation. Fraud, adulteration and contamination can happen to almost any edible commodity that you care to think of. Or, more likely, that you care not to think of — not just beef burgers with a hidden equine component but staples such as fish, spices and fruit juices. ... “What we eat and where it comes from, generally, we don’t know any more. It’s a very complex web. Every time you have a transaction [in the supply chain], there’s another opportunity to cheat.” And every week his lab picks up several cases of food fraud happening somewhere in the world. ... The institute is monitored by 24-hour security — with food fraud as yet hard to bring to successful conviction, any refinement in methods of detection is a potential threat to organised crime.
The bills were from a family of counterfeits that had bedeviled agents more than any other, with at least $50 million worth recovered around the world since 1999. Agents called them the Russian-Israeli notes. This particular variation, with “77” stamped in the lower right corner and a set of subtle errors—smudged chevrons, an extra line under one “THE”—was catalogued as Secret Service Circular 23332. It was so common and so good, agents referred to it as the No. 1 note. ... The heyday of American counterfeiting came in the decades before and after the Civil War, when each bank issued its own currency. Amid the confusion, an estimated 1 in 3 bills in circulation was fake. To stop the epidemic, Abraham Lincoln established the Secret Service on April 14, 1865, the day he was assassinated. (The agency wouldn’t officially be tasked with guarding the president until after William McKinley’s killing in 1901.) Then in 1877, the federal government began printing all currency. The counterfeiting trade never recovered, and today the Secret Service estimates just one bill in 10,000 is phony. But with $1.4 trillion in U.S. currency in circulation, that’s still a lot of money. During the last fiscal year, the agency seized about $146 million in fake bills. ... The Russian-Israelis weren’t “supernotes,” the nearly flawless counterfeits the North Korean government has made. They struck a balance between craftsmanship and cost. Any better, and they might not have been profitable.
Cosmetics companies have been fighting counterfeiters for as long as they’ve been in business, but the scope of their efforts isn’t widely known. The Estée Lauder Cos., the $30 billion company that owns MAC, Clinique, and other brands, has waged an especially aggressive campaign. Since 2003 its global security team has been led by the former head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York office, and it employs 42 full-time agents around the world. They infiltrate flea markets, make test purchases on EBay, and gather evidence for civil suits against counterfeiters. Increasingly, they’re coordinating with local and national governments. That includes pointing Chinese police to the country’s dingy fake-makeup factories and advising U.S. prosecutors on criminal investigations here ... Global seizures of counterfeit perfume and cosmetics jumped 25 percent from 2011 to 2013, according to a recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, making them a growing sector of the $461 billion annual trade in pirated and counterfeit goods. ... becoming a dealer in the U.S. no longer requires having shady contacts in Asia or smuggling suitcases through airports: Anyone with a few thousand dollars can buy contraband wholesale online and resell items individually on EBay and Amazon.com, or through more traditional channels such as flea markets, beauty salons, and mall kiosks.
Over the past 18 months, a five-year-old consortium of furniture manufacturers and design firms called BeOriginal Americas has been training US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers to distinguish real Eames, Starck, and Mies van der Rohe designs from fakes, among others. It’s working: According to CBP’s Intellectual Property Rights Seizure Statistics report (pdf, p.5), in 2016, customs officials confiscated 42 shipments of unauthorized replicas worth an estimated $4.2 million. ... But they’re up against a vast knock-off industry. Labeled with nice-sounding terms like “reproduction,”replica,” or “homage,” many designer chairs in offices, hotel lobbies, airports, restaurants and even big furniture stores are actually unauthorized copies. And while a knock-off Eames or Barcelona chair might seem like a harmless, budget-friendly addition to your living room, these illegal knockoffs threaten the economy and the environment, and erode the very meaning of design.
Counterfeiting is a $400 billion industry in China. Factories churn out real Nike shoes just a handful of subway stops from illicit markets selling fake ones, and counterfeit versions of the latest iPhone are hawked in the Shanghai airport before the real ones reach many rural Americans. There are real car dealerships selling knockoff cars and fake Apple Stores where the employees aren’t in on the scam. And black-market goods are a lucrative export, too: China sends millions of pairs of counterfeit shoes to the EU and billions of dollars’ worth of counterfeit pharmaceuticals to Africa and Southeast Asia. ... The Pinkerton Agency got its start fighting counterfeiting nearly 170 years ago when Allan Pinkerton, a Scottish immigrant, busted a gang manufacturing fake money along the Fox River in Illinois. Abraham Lincoln credited the young agency with foiling an early assassination plot that was to take place during the train ride to his inauguration. Throughout the Civil War, the president relied on Pinkerton detectives to handle tasks now performed by the FBI, Secret Service, and CIA.