Some of the hottest items for sale today are limited edition or rare sneakers — footwear that inspire a cult-like following and can fetch prices running into the thousands of dollars — but federal customs officials say there is a darker side to the trend, as counterfeiters with potential ties to transnational crime and even terrorism have stepped in to feed the demand.
Genuine Yeezys retail for around $200 a pair, but they are so rare and sell out so fast that sneaker speculators will sell them at massive mark-ups through stores like the Magnolia Park in Burbank, California, where a pair of Yeezys can go for as high as $1,500.
“I’ve seen kids come in here with Excel spreadsheets, showing their entire collection and what they’re selling,” said Magnolia Park founder Mike Guerra. “It’s like the stock market. One day it’s worth $500, the next day its $1,000, and just all comes down to how many there are available.”
Thanks in part to this demand, sneakers are one of the most counterfeited commodities coming into the U.S. according to Edward Fox, the Customs and Border Patrol‘s acting port director of the Port of New York and New Jersey in Newark. Mostly in China, giant factories churn out thousands of counterfeits that bear only subtle differences to the genuine models, like minor discrepancies in the threading, color variation, logo placement and even the sole.
Some fakes are so good many consumers are turning to unofficial authenticators online, such as Yeezy Busta, who calls out the fakes daily to his more than half a million followers.
“You walk around L.A. and you’ll see at least 10 people wearing these,” he said, referring to Yeezy sneakers. “Probably eight or nine of them will be fake.”
Yeezy Busta, who said he’s a 19-year-old medical student from Los Angeles but wears a mask to hide his identity because he’s afraid of being sued, offers a Yeezy verification service. For $10, followers can email him photos of their shoes for him to review. Some people know their Yeezys are fake, but don’t care.
There are also plenty of how-to tutorials on YouTube explaining how to check if sneakers are genuine and some buyers knowingly go for fakes to save money.
But authorities say purchasing counterfeit goods is not a victimless crime and can…