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U.S. seizes 1,500 counterfeit Hermes purses at Port of L.A.

Federal authorities have seized 1,500 counterfeit Hermes handbags from China at the Port of Los Angeles, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Tuesday.

Genuine Hermes leather bags retail for thousands of dollars apiece. The two shipments, discovered Feb. 12 and Feb. 26, would be worth as much as $14 million if sold at full price, the customs agency said.

Importing counterfeit purses and wallets has been on the rise, with a 142% increase in the value of goods seized in 2012 compared with the previous year, the agency said in a statement. Of the $511 million in counterfeit bags seized in 2012, the vast majority were made in China, it said.

To increase profit margins, counterfeit manufacturers are increasingly turning toward ultra-high-end brands such as Hermes and Fendi, said Jaime Ruiz, an agency spokesman.

The two shipments seized in February were bound for Mexico and a location in the United States, Ruiz said. The companies that were to receive the goods have been warned, but criminal charges typically are pursued only for repeat offenders, he said.

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Some counterfeit handbags are sold online, perhaps to unsuspecting consumers, while others know that they are buying a fake, he said.

“The money you don’t pay to the trademark holder is money that goes from your pocket to the pocket of some guy in Asia who’s going to use that money to hire child labor and continue doing his business,” Ruiz said. “Nobody wins. People believe buying counterfeit is win-win, but nobody wins.”

In 2012, customs officials seized $1.26 billion worth of counterfeit goods, which included luxury purses as well as everyday items such as batteries and toothpaste.

cindy.chang@latimes.com


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