A European housewife buys what's labeled as a pair of name-brand American-made blue jeans. Despite the product's generally good reputation, the seams come apart after only one washing.
A Dutch banker brings home a box of internationally famous West German jogging shoes. Although the shoes carry the West German firm's label, they actually were made in South Korea.
A Tokyo couple buys a U.S. brand pen-and-pencil set, at a bargain 20 percent off list price. Although the trademark is there, the set is merely a clever copy - made by a fly-by-night factory in Europe.
These are examples of the latest rage in international piracy - the open counterfeiting of high-quality, name-brand products. Trade specialists say it may be running into hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
A band of counterfeiters set up shop in labor-cheap countries, flagrantly copies popular U.S. and European products, then ships them to major world markets - often crowding out sales of the originals.
Admittedly, such shenanigans have been going on for years with, say, the Paris fashions market. But this time there's a new twist: The counterfeit goods bear the same brand name and trademark as the originals.
Experts say sometimes th e bogus products are almost as good as the brand-name originals, and sometimes they're not. In many cases, consumers are aware they're buying a fake, but like the price and don't care.
The problem cropped up in earnest a year-and-a-half ago when counterfeiters in Taiwan successfully copied Levi Strauss blue jeans - profiteering from the worldwide fashion craze that has swept major markets in recent years.
Last year, Levi Strauss security agents uncovered 50,000 pairs of bogus "Levi" stashed in warehouses in Holland and Switzerland. In Italy, a company spokesman says, bogus "Levis" are "our own biggest competitor."
Since then, the problem has spread to a wide range of other products, from watches and electric appliances to handbags and drugs, and even such unlikely items as chemical hog-fatteners and Walt Disney films.
In Mexico City, a company called Joyeria La Cartier openly sells bogus copies of watches and jewelry made by the New York City-based Cartier, Inc. - even using Cartier's trademark on its doors. But there's no link between the two.
Precise estimates of the cost of such pirating are hard to come by - in part because the counterfeiting isn't always discovered. Levi Strauss estimates its losses at $1 million a year. Other firms' figures are higher.
Company security experts attributef the new wave of counterfeiting to two recent developments in world trading patterns.
First, in the past several years, an increasing number of major manufacturers have begun to market products worldwide - making brand names more recognizable and more attractive to ordinary consumers.
Second, recent improvements in technology have made it easier to produce credible counterfeits. Sharper images in offset printing, for example, have made it simple for almost anyone to duplicate product labels.
But international copyright and fraud laws haven't kept pace with the marketing and technological developments, so, when counterfeiters are caught, there's often little a farm can do to punish them.
In the blue jeans case last year, for example, Dutch and Swiss authorities merely required the counterfeiters to remove the bogus "Levis" trademarks. "They even got to keep the garments," a spokesman said.
And civil suits don't provide much relief, the firms contend. In the first place, they frequently take more time than criminal cases to come to trial. And often when the firm does win damages, the pirates turn out to be broke.
Many of the major U.S. and European companies have set up elaborate security forces, with former FBI and Secret Service agents serving as international detectives. But even those efforts are limited.
As a result, 11 of the firms have banded together to push for legislation, both in their home countries and in world trade negotiations now underway in Geneva.
The coalition, headed by Levi Strauss Co., already has pushed an amendment through the Senate Finance Committee that would allow U.S. customs agents to confiscate counterfeit goods when they're discovered.
And last week the group won agreement by U.S. officials to propose similar sanctions as part of the multiateral trade talks in Geneva. Negotiators hope to complete that round sometime this summer.
Frank A. Weil, assistant secretary of commerce for international affairs, says that while the losses may not seem large compared to some trade problems, the companies have a valid point. And other U.S. officials agree.
Besides Levi Strauss, the group includes seven other American firms - General Electric, General Mills, Bristol-Myers, A. T. Cross pen company, Munsingwear, Pfizer chemical company and Walt Disney Productions.
Three foreign producers also have joined the campaign - the Puma sport shoe company of West Germany, Christian Dior of Paris and the London-based distillery that markets Johnnie Walker whiskey.
Disney has complained that foreign companies have been counterfeiting some of its major films classics, including "Snow White" and "Fantasia." Pfizer has suffered counterfeiting of Mecadox hog-fattener.