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Luxury Week

Counterfeiters zoom in on fake Ferraris

  • Story Highlights
  • Police smashed a counterfeit Ferrari ring selling fakes for $30,000
  • Ferrari owner, Cesare Costantini was impressed by the fakes' authenticity
  • Increasingly sophisticated counterfeiting is fuelled by consumer demand
  • Consumers would not buy knocked off goods if they knew it supported crime
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By Mairi Mackay
For CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- If a vintage Ferrari for $30,000 sounds too good to be true, that's probably because it is.

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A fake Ferrari so authentic even experts were impressed

But when a counterfeit classic is so good that even the experts are impressed, some buyers just can't resist the object of their desire at a knockdown price.

When Italian police broke up a Ferrari counterfeiting business earlier this year, they confiscated 21 cars, 14 of which had already been sold to classic car enthusiasts.

For a fraction of the $130,000 a real 328 GTB costs, buyers could get their hands on a copy that looks authentic down to the owner's documents.

Even Ferrari owner, Cesare Costantini was impressed: "Well done, really well done. From one meter, two meters, you cannot even see the difference. The same tail lights, the same fenders, also the exhaust is the same. Very well done," he said of the fakes.

The market for fake luxury goods is nothing new -- knock-off Louis Vuitton bags, Rolex watches -- but the Italian Ferrari ring is an example of just how sophisticated the industry has become in the last few years.

Advances in computer know-how -- the ability to "reverse engineer" almost any product -- mean that as soon as a luxury product develops a cachet there will be a band of forgers with the technology and resources to copy it. What's more, the copy will be so good that most people won't be able to tell the difference.

The highly talented rogue mechanics behind the fake Ferrari ring shaped slick "Enzo red" exteriors from fiberglass and fake car parts. They could hammer the body of a Toyota or a Pontiac to resemble a dream car.

But, of course, as with all fakes, the vital missing ingredient is quality. "Outside is the same, but inside, this is very different," nods Costantini. "The real difference is the engine, the frame, the suspension, brakes. The engine is the biggest difference."

Buying fakes is more socially acceptable than ever before and consumer demand has fuelled the growth of counterfeiting from something like a cottage industry to a global business.

EU Customs statistics show a 1,000 percent increase in counterfeit goods in Europe between 1998 and 2004.

Twenty years ago, the world's leading luxury brands routinely rationalized not doing anything about fakes. How could people spending $100 on a fake handbag put a dent in profits when they would obviously never be able to afford $15,000 to buy the real thing.

Today, companies realize that fake-buyers are not necessarily those with low incomes or the unemployed. They are also acutely aware of the damage rip offs can do to the exclusivity -- and profits -- of their luxury brands.

In a market that is tipped to grow to $2 trillion by 2010, there are as many different approaches to fighting counterfeiting as there are brands. Louis Vuitton, one of the most commonly copied brands, has been stitching holograms into the lining of its bags and other products for a number of years.

Exclusive knitwear label, Loro Piana, attaches an anti-counterfeiting seal to each of their cashmere and vicuņa shawls. An identifying serial number engraved onto the metal ring, which has the brand's logo on it, allows the yarn in the shawl to be traced back to the batch it originally came from.

But as the figures quite clearly show, counterfeiting continues to flourish despite the best efforts of these companies, which have also included successful intellectual property lawsuits and joint anti-counterfeiting raids with Asian governments.

Timothy P. Trainer, Intellectual Property attorney and co-founder of anti-counterfeiting NGO, the Authentics Foundation, thinks public attitudes would change if they knew what the money they spend on fakes was being used for.

"Consumers who believe that buying counterfeits is socially acceptable should consider whether they condone the use of their hard earned money to fund child labor, the international sex trade, human trafficking and other heinous illegal activity," he told CNN.

The flood of dollars being generated by the counterfeiting trade has acted as a magnet for organized crime. Huge syndicates that might once have smuggled drugs are attracted by the easy money and relatively light penalties.

"Counterfeiters are not paying tax, they are almost certainly not adhering to environmental laws or laws relating to the treatment of workers," Trainer added.

Last month, the Authentics Foundation held the Global Anti-Counterfeit summit in Brussels. In his opening speech, President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso echoed Trainer's sentiments: "All too often consumers knowingly buy faked high street products, thinking that no harm will come from such venial behaviour. As long as they think they are getting a good deal the trade in fake goods will continue," he said.

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The Authentics Foundation has plans for a public awareness campaign, although currently nothing concrete is in motion.

So, for now, Ferrari will have to rely on the fact there is something about a real sports car that shoddy engines cannot reproduce -- the unmistakable Ferrari growl. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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