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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Recognizing Russia's Counterfeits

At the Chercizovo flea market, a shopper recently showed a kiosk owner a copy of SPROS, a magazine on counterfeit goods. He pointed to an article on fake videocassettes and told the owner that his videos were not the real thing.


In a rare show of compliance with Russia's new counterfeiting laws, the owner took the videotapes off the shelf.


Since the Russian market opened to large numbers of imported Western goods, counterfeiting has evolved with dizzying swiftness. But SPROS, first published last year, is designed to help consumers find their way through the morass of fake goods offered throughout the country, including knockoffs of well-known brand names, products that are simply not what they purport to be, and even some that are dangerous.


The Russian Consumer Society, part of a worldwide consumer protection organization, formed the magazine in 1989.


In addition to SPROS, the Russian branch also produces a twice-weekly TV program called "2 by 2 Shop", which informs consumers about fake French perfumes, videotapes, food products, liquors and clothes.


Among its monthly features, SPROS helps Russians spot fake products. In one issue, for example, the magazine explained how to distinguish fake Levi's jeans from the original.


"Original Levi's bear a frayed-looking label, unlike the brand-new-looking label on fake ones. Original Levi's must have a triple stitch with a red thread, while fake jeans have a double stitch", according to the magazine.


"The market is just full of counterfeits", said Irina Vinogradova, director of the magazine. Beyond the relatively innocuous occurrence of fake jeans, the magazine also deals with the potential for buyers to be injured or poisoned by knockoffs. The magazine reported that it had found alcohol with methanol levels five to six times higher than acceptable standards at a distillery in Yekaterinburg.


One of the best known counterfeiting scandals broke out in the fall of 1991, when Moda Lux sold an estimated 20, 000 pairs of fake Levi 501s. It was among the first counterfeiting cases to attract widespread publicity, and among the first in which consumers went to court to get their money back.


But Vinogradova said despite a new law on consumer protection, passed in February 1992, Russian shoppers are still not protected because there is no system to enforce the law.


Only 20 of those who bought fake Levi's in the 1991 incident received compensation. Most of the others, Vinogradova said, did not believe they could win. Few consumers hurt by counterfeiting have the patience to go through court proceedings, which are complicated by the bureaucracy and inexperienced judges, she said.


So consumers have been turning to the magazine and the Russian Consumer Society for help. Buyers show up every day with new counterfeits: fake coffee, cigarettes, boom-boxes arid clothes, hoping to get information on compensation.


But apart from coping with public demand, the overloaded organization has its own problems. It doesn't have enough staff to handle all the visitors and callers, said Vinogradova.


In addition, unlike other non-profit organizations, the Russian Consumer Society, which is funded by the German government, does not receive any tax breaks or other help from the Russian authorities.