Monday, November 2, 2009

confessions of an international counterfeiter

 Here is something that you may not know about me: I am a sucker for get-rich quick money making schemes. Don't get me wrong, I'm not an idiot. I know a pyramid scheme when I see one. And I'm not talking about those summer pest-control/alarm selling guys that swarm out their hives every summer to invade neighborhoods with their products and savvy/underhanded sales-pitches. No. I'm talking about good ideas that are legitimate and that could possibly, no definitely make some money as long as the right minds are behind it.

Now let me preface the narrative that follows by mentioning that I do not recommend this line of work for anyone nor would I recommend this post for anyone attempting the same get rich scheme that I will describe. Yes, it can work. Is it ethical or moral? No. Additionally, I do not recommend that anyone, no matter how young, fit, or adventurous attempt our flight itinerary. I honestly believe it could kill you. Now with that said, let me also mention that I have lived overseas in East Asia for two and a half years, that I am conversant in Korean, and that I have visited on multiple occasions our destination in Beijing.

Back to the story. While working in a bank my senior year of college, my roommate and I were daydreaming of returning to Asia, the land of homogeneity, when suddenly the idea hit me or hit him or maybe hit us both simultaneously: we could return! What a novel idea! But wait. How ever could we afford the round-trip ticket prices, a hotel room, and food, all while forfeiting our meager bank salaries?

Simple. We would bring empty suitcases to fill with knockoff products and sell them online once we came back! I immediately opened up an Excel spreadsheet and created a matrix outlining our costs vs potential earning power. If we spent $500 on Chinese knockoff products, we estimated we could not only pay for our entire trip, but also, once the items had been sold at discounted prices, make a cool $2000-$4000 each. I think that was the moment when Colonel Greed blindsided Monsieur Reason, who then wouldn't appear again in my conscious until I was facing possible criminal charges. But let me back it up a second.

Anyways, we were going to make it big. We started seeing the endless possibilities. At first we would do this same thing once a month or so. Then, once he had the procedure down pat, we would hire someone to make the trips for us. Eventually, we would have to become a legitimate import company and I'm so glad it didn't get that far or else I would seriously be in jail now.

We left early one morning and had flights into Vancouver and Hong Kong before finally arriving in Beijing. We picked up our multiple empty bags and couldn't wait until they were packed so full of counterfeit goods we could hardly lift them. We quickly hailed a taxi and asked him to take us to the Pearl Market, counterfeiters' heaven!

Once we entered the unadorned doors, we beelined to our sellers. The first item on my list was a very specific ski/snowboarding jacket that was retailing in the States for about $400. Instead of haggling with the salesman over the price of one jacket, I stopped the man from saying anything at all. With his full attention I explained I didn't want to buy one jacket, I wanted to buy 40 jackets. I knew he understood when I saw his eyes bulge in his head. He was thinking of feeding his family for a month. I was thinking about feeding my family for a year. "I'll take 40 jackets at $12 dollars a jacket, not a dollar more. If you so say, I'll take my money to the next guy." Even though the price was really low, the Costco/bulk idea is understood in China too. He took it.

I repeated this process with some designer jeans, shoes, purses, and watches. Overall, we spent about $1000 and had about $20000 worth of products all crudely stuffed into huge black bags that we half-carried/half-dragged out of the building, onto the street, and into an awaiting taxi. We were on a returning flight to the States within four hours of our first landing.

Now comes customs. I had researched to the best of my abilities customs' laws and the requirements for reentering the States. Even though I had just stuffed my bags with counterfeit goods, I still wanted to claim everything on my customs declarations. I felt I had nothing to hide. I was well within my monetary allotments and I had receipts for the goods I purchased which were all "guaranteed to be authentic." (A popular line used by many of these vendors.) Even though I knew they weren't, I was prepared to honestly tell anyone who asked that I had been told by a knowledgeable insider that the items were authentic.

We waited in line at customs. My body got through the line with no problem, but I wasn't as lucky. For some reason I looked suspicious to the customs agent. You know, the clean-cut twenty-three year old white kid, from a sheltered military home. Customs took me aside and searched my bags. Let's just say they didn't like my explanation that the items were guaranteed to be authentic. Customs made me fell like a criminal. They emptied all my bags, made me miss my connecting flight, and threatened me with criminal charges. After three hours of interviews with intimidating customs agents, they let me go. I arrived at home with my bags as empty as they were when I left. And I still had to pay for the whole friggin trip!

You may wonder about my friend who got through customs before I got caught, what about him? Were we able to at least sell some of the stuff he got through customs? Nope, customs pulled him and his luggage off the plane and brought him back into the holding room with me. And they took all of his stuff too. It was so sad that James Van Der Beek even attempted to cry for us.

Today as I celebrate the three year anniversary of that trip I just want to give a quick shout out to those customs agents in Vancouver: I hope you are enjoying my Rolex watch and my jackets!


  1. This is so awesome. I love that you gave the wild plan a try.

  2. Thanks for finally sharing this whole story. You could say . . . it was a valuable experience?
    Hope you're doing well -

  3. Wow. Quite possibly the best and funniest thing I've ever read. I really think this is going to move to the top of my "stories for parties" repertoire. "You've got to listen to this story about a guy I went to school with..." It's a new classic!