May 19, 2014 1:10 AM by Tom McNamara and Paul Birmingham
You've probably been to flea markets and swap meets, and felt the lure of big name items at ridiculously low prices. The reason for those low prices may be because those designer bags, clothing and jewelry are fake.
Nearly five years ago, federal agents swept the Tanque Verde Swap Meet in Tucson and seized almost $800,000 worth of knock off merchandise.
The News 4 Tucson Investigators wanted to see if things have changed at the Swap Meet since that time.
We found bogus items being bought and sold right under law enforcement's nose.
An investigative producer with News 4 Tucson went to the Swap Meet looking to check on the authenticity of the merchandise since the huge ICE raid in 2009.
Companies including Coach have policies against confirming whether items are real or fake to prevent tipping off counterfeiters, so we went to expert buyers at Tucson-based Buffalo Exchange.
Manager Candace Gaskin stopped short of confirming whether or not the items were counterfeit, but said there were a number of red flags. She examined a coach bag purchased from a vendor at the Swap Meet.
"Usually this brand is known for utilizing genuine leather with most of their products. And this one is polyurethane. It's definitely a vinyl, which is not consistent with the brand," Gaskin said.
Gaskin looked at a pair of Oakley sunglasses also purchased from the Swap Meet. Gaskin said they were most likey a knock-off.
"The first giveaway is going to be the construction or how the item is made. You can also feel the weight too. This is pretty light. And that's not consistent with the quality or even the metals or materials that these Oakleys would be made with," Gaskin says.
As far as our Swap Meet T-shirt goes, a Michael Kors representative told the News 4 Tucson Investigators via email the shirt appears to be a knock-off.
News 4 Tucson Investigators asked vendors about the potentially fake merchandise,
One vendor named Maria says she bought the items sight-unseen from a storage auction.
The Tanque Verde Swap Meet has a written policy against vendors selling counterfeit items. But, the News 4 Tucson Investigators wanted to know if the swap meet actually enforces that policy.
"We do the best that we possibly can. A lot of stuff comes in. As soon as we're made aware of a problem, we take care of it," says General Manager Ray Stone.
Companies like Coach work with private investigators to try to crackdown on counterfeiters but there's only so much that can be done to stem the tide of knock-offs, that usually come from overseas, via southern California's ports.
Stone says he has at least five to seven personnel that patrol to make sure that the grounds are maintained and everything is done reasonable as best they can. They inspect vendor's goods and then look at what they have but unfortunately, Stone's crew just can't be everywhere and inspect every item.
During the News 4 Tucson Investigators visit to the Swap Meet, we also spotted a number of Pima County Sheriff's deputies. They were patrolling in a golf-cart, and also at the snack bar. All the while, the bogus bargains were being bought and sold.
A Sheriff's Department Captain told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, those deputies aren't there to crack down on counterfeiters, but rather, for different duties.
"Deputies primary responsibility out there is to keep the peace. Preserve the peace. Responding to disputes with vendors, alcohol is consumed out there. We're dealing with possible car crashes in the parking lot," says Capt. Karl Wooldrige.
Meanwhile, Swap Meet shoppers tell the News 4 Tucson Investigators they realize that items for sale aren't always the real deal, especially when it comes to things with Michael Kors, Coach or other luxury labels.
In the end, a lot of it comes down to ‘buyer beware.'
"If a deal just seems too good to be true, it probably is," Stone says
If you have something you'd like the News 4 Tucson Investigators to check out, email us, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the News 4 Tucson Investigators tip-line at (520) 955-4444.