If you’ve ever been to Chinatown in New York, Santee Alley in Los Angeles, or Gage Street in Hong Kong, you know what pulls the crowds: the opportunity to purchase replica Jimmy Choo shoes, a Rolex watch, or a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses for a small fraction of the retail cost.

Consumers may believe that counterfeiting is a “victimless crime” that only affects large corporations, but it actually causes harm to a vast number of people, including consumers and the sweatshop workers who toil without any legal protections. Each year, thousands of people die because of phony drugs and foods. Also, it is the principal source of income for criminal groups.

Early in April, President Donald Trump urged American federal agencies to take additional measures to stop the flow of fake goods online, bringing attention to the issue. But in discussions on how to stop counterfeiting, the importance of customers has been overlooked.

I’ve been researching corporate crimes for the past five years and have focused a lot of my research on the significant issue of product counterfeiting. It has become abundantly evident to me that customers play a crucial role in the persistence and growth of product counterfeiting, just as U.S. demand feeds the trafficking of illegal drugs.The Trump administration likens the development of e-commerce to the chaotic “Wild West,” making it simpler for counterfeiters to reach US shoppers.

Over the past ten years, the amount of counterfeit goods intercepted at U.S. ports of entry has more than doubled.

Worldwide, counterfeiters reportedly sold phony items for US$1 trillion in 2017. By 2020, that amount is predicted to surpass $1.8 trillion. As a result, companies reported losses of $323 billion in 2017.The corporations that legitimately hold trademarks, or brand owners, often suggest that the only surefire method for a business to avoid a counterfeiting problem is to manufacture a product that no one wants to buy.

There would be little use in knockoffs if no one coveted designer handbags like Coach, Chanel, or Michael Kors, for instance.

The lesson to be learned from this is that counterfeiters are motivated to produce and sell fakes because there is a demand from consumers for genuine goods. While the majority of consumers do not want to buy counterfeit items and are really victims of this trick, there are still plenty who do so in order to acquire what they believe to be a good deal.Regardless of the reason, their decision makes them accomplices to this illegal activity, providing counterfeiters with more financial resources. And more importantly, it can place them at risk for serious harm.

While it may seem normal and not harmful to rationalize the purchase of a counterfeit purse as a way to save money, my own research has found that the same logic can lead people to buy tobacco laced with arsenic and tainted medications that have led to serious illness or even death.