Good economic news during the pandemic

Charlie Powell

You know the scene: Gathered around a table lit by a single bulb are the counterfeiters, plotting their next caper.

No, they’re not plotting to print greenbacks. They’re planning to counterfeit pet products and you may have already bought some.

Everybody has seen a movie about bad guys counterfeiting money. But beyond perhaps fashion accessories, few people think about what else is counterfeited.

Pennsylvania newspapers ran a story this week about counterfeit flea and tick collars we don’t have to worry much about here on the Palouse. Marketed under the brand name Seresto, by Bayer, loads of the bogus collars were seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.

Beyond encroachment on patents and trademarks, which are intellectual property, the Chinese knock-offs didn’t have the medication in them, either. No one seems to know just what they were impregnated with, but it wasn’t the eight months of protective pharmaceutical promised by Bayer.

The fake collars sickened some pets and caused chemical burns on the skin of others.

A total of 13 international packages containing 31 cat and 27 dog flea collars were seized by CBP in only a two-week time period, according to WPIX in Pittsburgh. And chances are, a whole lot more got through simply because the agency is understaffed for crimes like this, and these crimes are of lower priority.

A lower priority indeed ­— a medicated dog or cat collar can set one back about $60 for two months’ protection. So, if enforcement is limited, and the value of the product is a little stiff and in high demand, it makes a perfect environment for counterfeiting.

The agency started finding and confiscating the shipments in mid-April after confirming with the trademark holder that the collars were fake, CBP told WPIX.

The packages arriving from China and Hong Kong were shipped to addresses in Allegheny, Beaver, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

China remains the largest source economy for seized counterfeit and pirated goods, about 83 percent of all seizures, according to CBP.In 2019, the agency working with Homeland Security seized nearly 28,000 shipments of fake goods. In total, the goods were valued at the manufacturers’ suggested retail price, which was more than $1.5 billion. That topped the previous year’s value, which ran some $1.4 billion.

Again in 2019, they arrested 256 alleged perpetrators. The court issued 197 indictments and those resulted in 157 convictions.

Watches and jewelry topped the list of fake stuff, as many might imagine, valued at almost $700 million. Apparel and accessories accounted for $343 million.

It’s sort of like all the counterfeit U.S. currency you can buy online at many places like Yep, manufacturers in China will print up as much as you want and sell it to you for nearly nothing.

Now some of these fake items are labeled in very fine print with some message about it being only for “film and theatrical use only.” But a lot more products are not.

Digital systems have made reproduction of most of the visual components of U.S. currency incredibly accurate.

Ordering and owning fake currency is not a crime, technically. Trying to use it to secure goods or services is indeed a crime. In January, CBP officers seized $900,000 in counterfeit currency hidden in a commercial rail shipment.

The fakes were $1 bills. Yes, you read correctly. The bills originated from China.

As for pharmaceuticals, human or animal, there are many tips available online to help consumers tell the difference. Number one on that list is price. If it seems like a steal, it probably is.

Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email

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