U.S., Mexican police crack down on watch counterfeiters

August has been a busy month in the fight against watch counterfeiters, as police in the United States and Mexico confiscated fake watches valued at millions of dollars.

* In Los Angeles, more than 1,300 counterfeit watches were seized Aug. 8 by the Hollywood vice unit and members of a private security-consulting firm at a building on what newspaper reports called, “trendy Melrose Avenue.”

Fakes included counterfeits of Rolex, Tag Heuer, Breitling, and other upscale brands, said police. A large amount of cash also was seized. At least one person was arrested for alleged felony possession of counterfeit goods.

* In North Carolina, a police officer making a routine traffic stop arrested a driver heading from New York to Florida with counterfeit watches, handbags, sunglasses, and other items.

* In Mexico City, some 20,000 fake Swiss watches were seized in a successful Aug. 8 raid that was a joint operation between local police and the regional office of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH.

Jean-Daniel Pasche, FH president, told Swiss media the raid was part of a global strategy against counterfeiters, who annually cost the Swiss watch industry $634 million. The raid, he said, sends “a strong message to counterfeiters around the world that we are active and protecting our rights.” It was the result of “many months’ developing contacts with the Mexican authorities,” similar to those with officials in other countries, where similar operations have been held. Those include a raid in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in 2003 and destruction of five tons of fake watches in Switzerland in 2004.

The Federation has also begun working with authorities in China, “the number one place for manufacturing fake goods, not just watches,” says Pasche. But it needs “time to change the culture” (counterfeits are often sold openly to foreigners) and “more pressure on China from around the world to protect our intellectual property.”

* Some headway is being made. In Shanghai in August, for example, 3,000 English-language signs were put up by the city in street markets where cheap products, including watches, apparel, and jewelry, are sold to people from around the globe seeking bargains. The signs warn that “The rights of 40 world-famous brands are protected. Anyone who sees counterfeits of these on sale should report it to the police.” The Shanghai Municipal Tourism Bureau also warned local tourist agencies against taking visitors to markets where fakes are sold.