Q&A: Lexmark employee catches counterfeiters

Andrew Gardner displayed two toner cartridges, an authentic one on the left and a counterfeit that was spray-painted black.
Andrew Gardner displayed two toner cartridges, an authentic one on the left and a counterfeit that was spray-painted black. Photo by Scott Sloan

Andrew Gardner is the printer police, so to speak. From Lexmark International's global headquarters in Lexington, Gardner directs a team that works with law enforcement around the globe to catch criminals who counterfeit the company's ink and toner cartridges.

He took time last week to speak with the Herald-Leader about how the role has evolved since he took over several years ago, as well as share stories of catching criminals both in the United States and abroad.

Question: Explain the difference between Lexmark's cartridges, remanufactured cartridges and counterfeit cartridges.

Answer: A genuine product is something made by us. A remanufactured cartridge is something that's not new. It's sold as a remanufactured product and labeled clearly as such on the box and labeled clearly on the cartridge. Remanufactured cartridges don't have any identification on them ... so there's no customer confusion. Counterfeit cartridges are represented as Lexmark cartridges but aren't.

Q: Tell me about how people react to what you do.

A: People don't think of people counterfeiting printer supplies. You think of Rolex watches, DVDs and those kinds of things. ... We work with various customs agencies around the world. They're very used to seeing counterfeit tennis shoes. Every time we do this, they say, "We didn't know people counterfeited printer supplies." But they've been very receptive.

Q: How did you come to be in this position?

A: I have no law enforcement background or attorney background. By trade, I'm a sales and marketing person. I have good knowledge of how sales and distribution channels work. ... Seven years ago, an opportunity came up ... and now we've got headquarters resources dedicated to this and investigative resources around the world.

Q: What was it like at the beginning for you in this role?

A: When we started, the extent of what we did is, we had a security label on the top of our toner cartridge packaging. That's really all we had. ... The box was fairly simple. It closed by a piece of tape on the top and a piece of tape on the bottom. A person with a razor blade could easily take out a good cartridge, put in a bad cartridge and make it look like a genuine item.

We've been through multiple iterations of packaging to what we have today ... which has no access to toner cartridges from the bottoms. You've got to go in through the top and tear a strip.

We also have serial-number tracking. We can track who we sold it to in the distribution chain.

Q: Tell me about some of your team's successes.

A: In the U.S., there was an investigation and enforcement that took place a number of years ago. It started with a customer complaint that led to us looking further into what was the problem. We found out it was not a genuine cartridge and hit the reseller channel and worked it back through the distribution channel. ...

These guys in Jacksonville, Fla., were going to take a couple of thousand legitimately remanufactured cartridges and put them in genuine boxes and sell them as legitimate products.

One of the suspects fled the country. ... He came back in last spring and got caught at the border because there was an outstanding warrant. In October of last year, he pleaded guilty ... and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Thirty months for counterfeiting is actually a pretty good sentence. There was also a small amount of restitution due to Lexmark.

In the first half of the year, we did one in China. We identified a company that was selling counterfeit items, identified who was doing it, how it was being done, the sales process, and the warehouses.

In April ... the police raided offices, warehouses and even stopped a truck in the street. Three suspects were arrested and went to jail. We were talking many thousands of units. We're talking more than 10,000 boxes, thousands of cartridges and component parts.

Q: Describe what makes this a priority for Lexmark.

A: Ultimately, what this does is, it allows us to make sure our customers get what they think they're buying. ...

The place you're going to run into a problem is when you buy off the Internet from a random company you haven't heard of. If you're buying something from overseas, you stand a pretty good chance that you could get something you're not expecting.

Quite often, we learn about these when customers send them in and think it was just a bad cartridge. They don't get the benefit of knowing more about how it wasn't Lexmark's fault.

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