Counterfeit retail items not atop law enforcement’s list of priorities

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Charles Zerbe can tell the difference between a fake, can you?

Charles Zerbe can tell the difference between a fake, can you?

On the streets of Tangier, the hawkers never give up. Young men with jewelry and watches pursue tourists, offering fake luxury goods.

A “Rolex” starts at 100 euros, and, as harassed visitors ignore the vendors, the prices drop … and drop … until finally a fake Rolex Submariner can be had for $20.

But is the knockoff watch even worth a double sawbuck?

“It’s not as bad as some of these fakes,” said Charles Zerbe, whose downtown store is one of three authorized Rolex dealers in Colorado Springs. “It has a self-winding mechanical movement, the date change mechanism works, but the band and the clasp are pretty tinny.”

Faking luxury goods is a worldwide business that is nominally illegal almost everywhere. Manufacturers such as Rolex, Prada, Gucci and Coach have tried to shut down the counterfeiters, but to little effect.

According to the Swiss watch industry’s trade association, more than 40 million fake Swiss watches are sold each year, generating net profits of nearly $ 1 billion. By comparison, 26 million legitimate Swiss watches were sold during 2007.

And the avalanche of counterfeits continues, driven both locally and nationally by bargain-hunting consumers.

Michael Knight, who owns Knight Watch and Jewelry in downtown Colorado Springs, said that fakes have proliferated during recent years, but that Rolex has always been the main target.

“Fifteen or 20 years ago, I had just gotten certified to work on Rolexes by the company in New York, and I was walking down 5th Avenue with the president of Rolex,” he said, “and there was some guy trying to peddle fake Rolexes right under the Rolex sign.”

In Colorado Springs, fake designer goods are readily available, on the Web or in flea markets. Most retailers won’t carry them, although they run little risk of being prosecuted for doing so.

Eve’s Revolution, a consignment store on West Colorado Avenue, sells “new and experienced clothing, shoes, handbags and accessories.”

“I used to take those fake handbags on consignment, but I won’t do that anymore,” said owner Eve Carlson. “I think people understand that (buying them) is not the responsible thing to do. But you can find them if you want them.”

Sgt. Steve Noblitt, a public information officer with the Colorado Springs Police Department, said that CSPD devotes no resources to enforcing trademark laws.

“We don’t have any investigative body (assigned to this),” Noblitt said. “Not as far as I know, anyway. And how could we enforce (such laws)? How do you tell a fake Rolex from a real one? The average cop on the beat isn’t going to know this.”