Fake out // Best Practices

Georgina Danzig — part private eye, part lawyer — is waging war against your fake Louis Vuitton

By Chelsea Murray

On Thursday March 10th, 2011


It’s Friday the 13th and thousands of motorcycle riders have flooded Port Dover, Ontario, for the town’s regular biker rally. Lawyer Georgina Starkman Danzig and an undercover cop are mingling in a sea of leather and denim, on the hunt for vendors selling knock-off gear. As they pass one booth, the officer says, “I don’t recommend you serve a civil order on this guy — would you mind taking a pass today?” A few of the salespeople are known criminals and if they turned violent, the officer couldn’t control the crowd. Danzig nods, noting some information, and arranging a purchase, so she can nail the vendor later, when it’s safer.

Danzig doesn’t have a typical desk job. She and her colleagues at Toronto firm Kestenberg Siegal Lipkus LLP spend much of their time out of the office, seeking out products with dubious provenances and serving Anton Piller–type orders to merchandisers selling alleged counterfeits. (Anton Piller orders are documents that give lawyers the right to search for and seize suspicious products.)

A 45-year-old mother of two teenagers, Danzig has a cheery disposition and a kind face. It’s difficult to imagine the petite brunette as an undercover sleuth. But after 10 years of commercial litigation, Danzig took immediately to anti-counterfeit work after falling into it almost by accident. “It’s a very fun practice and it’s a problem-solving practice,” she says, “so it’s quite gratifying.”

Danzig practices anti-counterfeiting law exclusively, and KSL usually has one to three private investigators on staff. This narrow focus means she can jump into investigations for her clients — name brand clothing, footwear and pharmaceutical companies — on short notice. “In this type of a practice, if we have a problem, it’s ‘let’s go!’” says Danzig. “Otherwise, the tip will run cold.”

An investigation typically starts when someone purchases a suspicious item. If analysis shows the item is, in fact, counterfeit, Danzig visits the store that sold it. An investigator and a police officer usually go, too.

Depending on how much the retailers are selling and whether it’s their first offence, Danzig can act in a number of ways, and will often serve a cease-and-desist or an Anton Piller order. If it’s the latter, the team sorts through the merchandise. Last year they seized between 50 and 100 tons, a big year thanks to Vancouver Olympics fakes.

Counterfeiting is an ancient crime, but it’s becoming a bigger problem as newer, cheaper technologies make it easier to produce sophisticated imitations. “The evolution we’ve seen is dramatic,” says Danzig. “It’s electrical products, phones, food — no commodity is immune anymore.” As a result, Canadian manufacturers lose an estimated $20 to $30 billion and thousands of jobs annually to knock-offs.

The fakes usually don’t meet the same safety standards as authentic goods. Counterfeiting has also been linked to organized crime, so busting smaller vendors is important: seizing their products can get investigators one step closer to the ringleaders.

“Our ultimate goal is to stop the production of counterfeit goods,” says Danzig, who in 2002 assisted police in identifying imitation Versace leather jackets. One man involved in the case was subsequently extradited back to Sicily to face mafia-related charges.

It’s a dangerous game, but one in which Danzig is well-versed. “We actually proceed quite carefully,” she says. “It’s not like cops and robbers.”

The Lowdown: Georgina Starkman Danzig

  • Year of Call: 1990
  • Current Job: Partner, Kestenberg Siegal Lipkus LLP
  • First Job: Waiting tables at a coffee shop in Edmonton
  • Personal Style: Classic with a splash of je ne sais quoi
  • Greatest Frustration: Finding the elusive balance between practice and family life
  • Proudest Moment: Witnessing my children’s successes, big or small
  • Favourite Law Movie: A Few Good Men

Photography by Finn O’Hara