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Whenever you hear about counterfeit merchandise, you almost always think about China. It's not completely undeserved -- the country does have a history of churning out tons of fake DVDs, electronics, designer clothing and everything else you can and can't imagine.

Why? Because they're really, really good at it. The amount of work and creativity the Chinese underworld puts into their fakes is so damn impressive that you have to wonder why they'd ever need to steal other people's ideas. These are the people who have faked ...

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Entire Companies

When Chinese counterfeiters decide to set up a series of knockoff store chains, they don't mess around trying to be subtle. Check out this strangely familiar retailer in Kunming, China:

birdabroad
Everything at this Apple Store is 30 percent cheaper than the one down the street because capitalism.

They have the Apple logo, the displays and even blue-T-shirt-clad staff members sporting that classic Apple smug grin.

birdabroad
Ha, that awkward 45-degree angle. Classic.

The illusion was so perfect that even the employees thought the place was legit. Let's say that again: Even though it's a complete knockoff, all the employees completely believed they were working for Apple.

Chinese officials have so far found a total of 22 fake Apple stores operating across the country. Hell, at least when somebody opened a chain of fake Ikea stores, they had the courtesy to reverse the color scheme:

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The food in their cafe was 40 percent lead, making it markedly more delicious than the real thing.

But both of those pale in comparison with the scope of the counterfeiting operation that targeted the Japanese electronics giant NEC.

In 2004, NEC got word that some counterfeit computer products with their logo on them were coming out of China. Big surprise, right? But when they had someone investigate it further, instead of a single rogue factory they discovered a massive, multinational operation counterfeiting ... well, all of NEC.

nytimes
Which one do we sue? Which one do we sue?

Someone in China actually created an entire parallel NEC enterprise with business cards, R&D commissions, detailed production plans and even warranties all bearing the NEC mark.

This fake NEC also had a network of over 50(!) factories across China and Taiwan producing existing NEC goods and totally new products like MP3 players and entertainment systems ... for which the evil-twin NEC was receiving "royalties." Some of their products were even found in stores of major retailers.

But here's the craziest part: The real NEC guys admitted that those "original fakes" were actually of a pretty good quality, which was probably like being told that some guy stole your identity and then used it to win the Biggest Penis World Championship.

4
Prehistoric Fossils

Dinosaur bones are valuable, for obvious reasons -- besides being a finite resource, they're also difficult to find, being buried deep underground and all. What if you could simply skip the entire "discover it and clean it off and assemble it together" process that makes archaeology so tedious and skip right to the "make money from tourists" part? Leave it to industrious Chinese counterfeiters to find a way.

In the 1970s, the Chinese fossil market exploded, with dino-bits being dug up and sold all over the country. When the supply dried up, someone suggested, "Why don't we just make some more?"

paleodirect
Really, the difference between a million years and 10 minutes is where you put the decimal point.

And thus, today China is one of the biggest suppliers of fake fossils on the planet. Why bother? Well, here's a fake rat fossil made from a calcified fish. It sold on eBay for over $3,000:

paleodirect
We don't even buy HDMI cables from Chinese retailers.

They can be made in a number of ways, including building skeletons out of chicken/frog bones or plaster and rock, to more authentic fakes made by mixing existing fossils into completely new animals, and sometimes even crushing them into a paste and sculpting new bones. Examples range from fake pterosaur fossils ...

paleodirect
Scientists speculate he was delicious with hoisin sauce.

... to fake saber-tooth tiger heads made from modified dog skulls:

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The problem is so persistent that some Chinese scientists are claiming that judging modern fossil collections on their authenticity is just "unrealistic." We wonder if the same thing will eventually happen for ...

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3
IDs for Underage Kids

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There's been a lot of talk lately about China taking away American jobs, but the one profession we've always assumed would forever stay within U.S. borders is the proud tradition of making fake IDs for underage kids wanting to get shitfaced. That is no longer the case.

businessinsider
Because you don't need an ID for meth.

Since 2010, police have been finding insanely high-quality fake driver's licenses and other IDs on underage drinkers all across the country. The fakes were so sophisticated, in fact, that they could fool not only bouncers and law enforcement officers, but also some bar-code readers. And they all originated from one company in Nanjing, China.

It works like this: You email the company your physical description, your picture and other information you want on the ID. Then you pay them $300 (or $75 if you order more than 20). Finally, you receive your ID in the mail, hidden in the sole of cheap-ass shoes.

arlingtoncardinal
Which will prevent you from getting into most clubs, no matter how many ID cards you throw at people.

Fortunately, most of the fake IDs can be identified immediately with advanced scanning, so they don't really pose a problem to national security or anything. Still, that doesn't mean they have no negative consequences; studies have shown that underage people are more prone to binge drinking than legal adults, which can often have lethal results. And what about Steve from Dorm B?! How is he supposed to pay for that new laminating machine and his WoW subscription with China taking away all of his business?

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"Well, I guess it's back to the gold farmi -- awww, damn it."

But before you breathe too much of a sigh of relief about national security, there's the issue of ...

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U.S. Military Hardware

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As we mentioned with the NEC situation earlier, counterfeit Chinese electronics have become very sophisticated. Nowadays, most people probably couldn't tell the difference between a fake iPod and a real one because the former no longer features mangled-up English phrases on the box like "General Turtleneck's Happiness Music Mini Pod." If you think that's a concern, consider this problem on a more internal scale. Take this microchip, for instance:

Wired
It's for a time machine. Go on, prove us wrong.

Can you tell if it's real or a Chinese fake? If you can't, congratulations, you now qualify for a spot in the U.S. Department of Defense, which helped supply American armed forces with tons of counterfeit electronics that went right into crucial weapon systems.

In 2011, the Senate Armed Services Committee, led by John "Rambo II" McCain, discovered that, among electronics ordered from Asia by the DOD, some were in fact Chinese counterfeits, produced without oversight or quality control. And by "some" we mean "over one flippity-fracking-hell million" parts, such as thermal weapon sights, missile computer components and electronics for military planes. And no one has any idea how many they might have missed.

Getty
"We've replaced one of the soldier's weapons with a Chinese fake. Let's see if he survives."

But it's not just simply a problem of inferior parts malfunctioning or giving out too early. In 2010, the U.S. military unknowingly purchased 59,000 counterfeit Chinese microchips that could have been hacked and used to shut down the country's missile defense system.

The good news is that the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA) is working on a way to quickly scan electronics and detect whether they are genuine or not. Not that they need to hurry -- what are the odds that the U.S. will ever get into a war again?

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Only slightly lower than the odds that this "scanner" will also end up being made from counterfeit Chinese parts.

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Cigarettes

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If you smoke, there's a decent chance that you've smoked a fake Chinese cigarette at some point.

You see, China smokes like a chimney. They smoke around 2.2 trillion cigarettes a year. Trillion. That's a one and 12 zeroes ... and then 2.2 times that. The state-owned Chinese tobacco industry actually brings in about 8 percent of the country's annual budget (the second largest economy in the world, mind you). Naturally, all that money was bound to attract counterfeiters sooner or later -- supplying knockoff Marlboros and every other brand to the largest population of smokers in the world.

lightwerk
This must be the Chinese warning for "You will get adorable heart cancer and die."

You can see how that would be a problem, since even if counterfeited smokes were a tiny fraction of the cigarette market in China, the scale of the country's smoking phenomenon alone would make them one colossal operation. Counterfeited smokes are not a tiny fraction of the cigarette market in China.

cnreviews / sina
That's, like, a trillion dollars in prison money.

Currently, there are about 400 billion fake cigarettes being produced in China, enough to supply each U.S. smoker with 460 packs of fake Marlboros, Newports or Benson & Hedges. Surprisingly, about half of those all come from one place -- Yunxiao, a county in the south of China roughly twice the size of New York City and home to 200-plus counterfeit cigarette operations hidden underground. And we meant that last part literally. Yunxiao's illegal cigarette factories are actually hidden below the surface of the city, in neighboring mountain caves and under streets, temples and once even a lake.

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Living in a cave, being a tech genius and making things look cool. This Chinese guy is Batman.

In one case, some Yunxiao counterfeiters even tried to divert attention from the underground factory by disguising their compound as a military base, complete with 20 guys parading around in military uniforms and doing daily drills.

The scope of these operations ranges from rusty rolling machines hidden in old bunkers to multimillion-dollar enterprises. The return is amazing (up to 20 times their original investment), and the worst Chinese law can do is gently slap them on the wrist with a couple of years in jail or a small fine. What's not to love?

publicintegrity
Other than the cancer?

Well, how about the fact that the fake Chinese cigarettes often contain 80 percent more nicotine and 130 percent more carbon monoxide than the genuine article, plus occasional insect eggs and human feces?

Oh, and then there's what we said earlier -- there's actually a chance you yourself have taken a nice, long drag of counterfeit Chinese poop-sticks. Cigarette factories from Yunxiao export their products to over 60 countries around the globe because it's impossible to spot the fakes unless you're an industry specialist. So 99 percent of all fake cigarettes in the U.S. come from China. In the U.K., one in every three packs is believed to be a Chinese counterfeit.

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On the plus side, if we put "May contain human feces" on every pack, we can probably lower smoking rates by, like, 2 to 3 percent.

Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a freelance English-Japanese-Polish translator, tour guide and writer. Contact him here.

For more ridiculous ripoffs, check out The 6 Most Psychotic Rip-Offs of Famous Animated Films and 6 Baffling Attempts to Ride Harry Potter's Coattails.

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