Counterfeit: No harm, no foul … or is there?


Counterfeit: No harm, no foul … or is there?

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Nick Court of the City of London Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit discusses the need to publicise the real harm caused by IP infringement to members of the public.

The World Wide Web is well and truly living up to its name. Social media connects the globe, giving criminals seeking to sell fake goods access to thousands of potential salespeople and millions of customers at their fingertips. In addition, infringing websites can easily be set up to make counterfeit items or creative content available to the public.

It means that the key to reducing this criminality comes in demand reduction, rather than simply the targeting of offenders. Publicity and crime prevention techniques are therefore at the forefront of the law enforcement agenda, especially in the fight against IP crime.

“These goods are used to generate huge profits for organised criminals, some of whom may be connected to money laundering, terrorism and drug supply.”

A common problem, however, is that many people see the sale and purchase of counterfeit products as a victimless crime, only affecting the profits of large companies. So how can the various risks be demonstrated effectively to reduce offending?

Personal details are not for sale

One tactic that can be used to reduce the chances of people purchasing counterfeit goods online is to demonstrate the risk of identity theft. 

Shoppers on the web who find a bargain on an illicit site will unsuspectingly hand over details of their name, address and payment details to criminals.

At the City of London Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) we know that those details are misused thousands of times a year, and with social media sites being a mine of information, the risk of criminals obtaining the “full package” of ID as the result of a simple purchase is enormous.  

These risks are often unknown or overlooked by members of the public who buy fakes online. Publicising that risk is a tactic which brands and law enforcement must use.

What’s the harm?

With certain counterfeit products, such as electricals and cosmetics, it is easy to show potential injuries and physical harm: fake electricals have not passed safety tests and can cause fires or shocks, while fake make-up has been shown to cause rashes from harmful chemicals and other ingredients.

However, buyers often find little to no problem in purchasing a counterfeit handbag or shoes as the same obvious risks do not apply; a fake handbag is unlikely to cause an injury. 

In such cases, we can highlight the harm caused to people involved in the production process due to modern day slavery—whether in the UK or further afield.

A victim-based crime

People often work in terrible conditions and for low (or no) pay in order to produce counterfeit items for consumers.

These goods are used to generate huge profits for organised criminals, some of whom may be connected to money laundering, terrorism and drug supply, as well as modern slavery. 

Consumers are rightly concerned when a legitimate company is found to employ cheap labour, or to have people working in poor conditions. There is a public desire to ensure that what they buy is ethically sourced when purchasing from legitimate brands.

It is essential that we encourage a similar outlook when considering whether to purchase something which is cheap and “too good to be true”.

The harm of counterfeit products is not restricted to the buyers. Legitimate brands lose substantial sums of income every year as a result of counterfeiting, and this ultimately puts jobs at risk.

It is the responsibility of PIPCU and our partners in the IP industry to protect the rights of legitimate brands and raise awareness of the risks to consumers. By doing so we can ensure that the creative industries and their employees are protected for future generations to continue their work.

Nick Court is an acting detective chief inspector at PIPCU. If you would like to refer a case to PIPCU, please visit their website.

PIPCU, online infringement, fake goods, counterfeits, harm, creative content, trademark infringement, Nick Court

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