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All You Need to Know About Counterfeiting


What is Counterfeiting?

Counterfeiting is a crime that occurs when a person manufactures or tries to pass off an item as being authentic when it’s not.  The most common types of counterfeiting occur when trademarks are applied to imitation goods for sale, and fake currency is printed that looks and feels real.

But, it goes deeper than this. 

It’s also illegal to possess items used in the production of counterfeit goods and currency as well.

Why? Well, the trafficking of counterfeit goods is a matter of interstate commerce – which means transactions don’t just take place in one state – it is usually regulated by the Federal government.  While individual states do have the power to write and enforce laws regarding counterfeiting, only the federal government has the power to punish counterfeiters.

History of Counterfeiting

Counterfeiting has been a problem for both governments and private individuals for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  The most historically common type of counterfeiting involved passing off ordinary or mixed metals in place of precious metals.

On a national level, counterfeiting has the potential to disrupt entire economies because the circulation of counterfeit tender creates inflation of the genuine currency, and decreases the trust of citizens in the government and commerce in general.  This is why when the Constitution was written, the definition of counterfeiting was clearly outlined and the federal government was granted authority to punish counterfeiters.

Other Forms of Counterfeiting

Aside from fake currency and illegally trademarked goods, other items that can be counterfeited include:

  • Documents created by lending institutions, such as certificates of deposit and bonds
  • Documents intended for the purpose of defrauding the United States government
  • Documents related to imports and duties
  • Seals of Federal agencies
  • US postal stamps

Commercial trademark infringement is another type of counterfeiting and includes the unauthorized use of trademarks, such as logos in publications.

A prime example of this took place in 1999 when an Internet company was forced to pay $10,000 in damages for the unauthorized use of the Playboy bunny logo on their website.

Punishments for Counterfeiting

Federal law stipulates that someone convicted of counterfeiting US currency and securities may face a fine of up to $250,000 and 20 years in prison.

If someone is found in possession of plates and/or other materials that were used in the production of counterfeit currency, the maximum penalty is 25 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  This penalty can be increased if the counterfeiting resulted in someone other than the defendant accruing financial gain or loss.

The penalty for manufacturing counterfeit gold, silver, or coins of more than five cents is up to fifteen years in prison, while the maximum penalty for passing or attempting to pass counterfeit bars or coins is five years.

People who are engaged in the counterfeiting of goods usually get caught as a result of online sales, or are ratted out by a dissatisfied customer or business associate.  The counterfeiting of trademarked goods usually carries a penalty of up to three times the value of the profits or damages, plus reasonable lawyer fees.

Are You Facing Federal Counterfeiting Charges?

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