Do flea market raids matter? Only if you care about Baltimore’s economy

Written by on May 2, 2012 in Baltimore Voices, Blogs - No comments

Last week, when Homeland Security officials raided the Patapsco Flea Market and confiscated merchandise suspected to be designer knockoffs, the public’s reaction ran a narrow range: from shrugs to eye-rolls.

“Flea markets?” someone asked in a post. “What’s next, garage sales?”

“Doesn’t Homeland Security have something better to do?” someone else said. “Like catch terrorists or illegal aliens?”

Questions floated around and people were admittedly puzzled, but one essential point was being overlooked: counterfeiting of goods is a crime. It’s no less a crime than the counterfeiting of money.

The American economy, already suffering badly, loses millions of dollars a year because unscrupulous merchants bring in knockoff goods from overseas. These articles, whether they’re pirated CDs, counterfeit sporting goods, fakes of designer clothing or anything else, are sold by dealers online, at flea markets and on street corners.

And that, whether people want to admit it or not, impacts businesses here, particularly small businesses. We hear and talk so much about “the American way” and the need to help stimulate our economy and make it strong again, but as consumers, we’re more than willing to drop our scruples if we think we can scrape a few dollars from a price tag.

And that, sorry to say, has a domino effect. That friendly little shop on the corner that sells running shoes and sweat-wicking shirts? It suffers when people go online and buy what appears to be the same stuff from an auction site originating in China. That nice place that sells designer purses and wallets? Someone will lose a job because too many people decided they could get those same goods for less by going to a flea market and buying something with the same logo. Less business coming into our local stores means less money to pay employees, rent and utilities.

And here’s the bald truth. The shoppers who buy these products are not getting the bargains they think they are. They’re getting cheated too. What they’re buying is not made by the sporting goods company, or the running shoe company, or the wallet designer. It may have the name, the logo and the label, but it’s made in a foreign sweatshop using cheaper materials, and it’s going to break down, wear out, tear, not absorb sweat, you name it.

So who gets ripped off when people buy counterfeit goods? Why, that would be America: its workers, its companies and its economy.
The question of why Homeland Security investigates this is easily answered. It’s because counterfeit goods that come into the U.S. are illegal — they bypass the essential channels of tarrifs, customs, declarations and more in order to enter this country. Sound familiar?

Anyone who wants more border protection needs to think about our economic borders as well.

Flea market raids are a way of protecting our economy. If you want to do your part, you can help Homeland Security spot other counterfeiting operations that may be going on, either in person or online.

Homeland Security has an e-allegation form (An e-allegation? How 21st Century is that?) that is available free of charge, and can be filled out anonymously online. Go to to explore it.

This is our town, and this is our economy. These are our workers and our stores. We owe it to everyone around us to keep it strong.

by Mary Helen Sprecher

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