Fashion frauds target Versace

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The Independent Online
INVESTIGATORS working for leading fashion brands say that counterfeiters have become so sophisticated that they are targeting a specific brand each season and aggressively marketing their fakes.

The burgeoning fraud business is now estimated to cost British firms pounds 300 million in lost sales. Anti-counterfeiters say that they often know up to a year in advance which label is likely to come under attack. It is thought that gangs of counterfeiters will target Versace next year, while 12 months ago it was well-known Lacoste would fall victim this year.

Sources said that the popularity of Versace, particularly its shirts and sunglasses, made it obvious prey for organised gangs that operated nationwide.

However, the Milan-based company has opted not to hire investigators or employ outside experts to tackle the problem, and is relying instead on solicitors' letters to suspected counterfeiters.

"These people just laugh at threats like that," said one insider. "When Versace realise how bad the situation has got they will finally hire people to sort it out."

Versace said it took the problem extremely seriously, but believed any difficulties would be tackled efficiently by police and trading standards officers.

However, Keith Hale, spokesman for the trading standards umbrella body, Lacots, said that local authorities' 1,500 enforcement officers were under- resourced to deal with the scale of the problem. Even the increasing interest taken by the Inland Revenue, concerned at the loss of tax and VAT, and Customs, has done little to staunch the flow.

"The thing about the single market is that once fake goods get within the EU borders, it's difficult to do anything about it," said Paul Carratu, managing director of Carratu International, a leading investigation agency with a string of big-name clients.