Combatting 'Quicksilver' Counterfeiting Crime
03 July 2023
The global trade in counterfeit products is not a new phenomenon, but it is one that is rapidly growing and poses a significant threat to economies worldwide. This illicit trade is worth an estimated $464 billion, and its profits fund other appalling criminal activities such as human trafficking, drug smuggling, and forced labor. Counterfeiters are increasingly adapting to changing consumer habits, such as the rise of online shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic, to sell their dangerous goods. Such goods include
The vast majority of counterfeit goods (80%) are produced in China and Hong Kong, making it unlikely that any profits or taxes will find their way back into legal economies. Criminal organisations are also expanding their manufacturing bases to bring them closer to their target markets and exploit more vulnerable economies. This expansion is causing a breakdown in the rule of law, and corruption and political influence are becoming commonplace.
To combat this growing problem, law enforcement agencies must work together globally to build cross-border institutions that can target international trafficking. The OECD and the EUIPO have published excellent reports on the risks of counterfeit trade, but without collective cooperation to use them effectively, their value is undermined. Sharing and using international data is essential to combat this global issue.
The trade in counterfeit products is a worrying threat, endangering the health and safety of consumers worldwide, destroying jobs, and funding other criminal activities.
Until an international centre is created to tackle this “quicksilver” international crime wave. The criminals will be using their huge profits to invest in other crimes and build legitimate businesses, shopping malls, hotels, restaurants and mansions in our very own backyards.
It is time for a global, collaborative effort to combat this growing problem and protect our economies, our people, and our future.
The High Cost of Counterfeits: World Anti-Counterfeiting Day Raises Awareness
7 June 2023
Every year in June, ACG and its partner organisations worldwide commemorate World Anti-Counterfeiting Day. It is a day to increase efforts to raise awareness and take greater action to tackle the global trade in fake products, which is now worth a staggering $464 billion USD.
Counterfeiters' profits are draining from the UK economy, with estimates of £1.3 billion lost annually to the Exchequer. Despite the lack of public concern, we must remember that counterfeiters do not pay taxes and certainly do not build hospitals and schools. Moreover, the poly criminality threats, interplay with other forms of criminality, and serious and organised crime are evident, as reported by Interpol, Europol, and other international enforcement agencies.
The counterfeit goods trade is now closely linked with the illicit trade in people, drugs, weapons, modern-day slavery, corruption, and many new "digital organised economic crimes." The international criminal networks involved are relentless and have expanded their networks to facilitate access to markets worldwide. As a result, they are now able to flood countries with ever more dangerous products at an industrial scale and at lightning speed. This has resulted in year-on-year growth in dangers to our prized job providing businesses and families throughout the world.
Last year, a combined report by the OECD and the European Intellectual Property Office indicated that global customs authorities had seized over 400,000 dangerous products. Other reports reveal that 30% of seized goods at borders are dangerous to consumers.
We must acknowledge that the UK is a major international target destination for this multi-faceted crimewave. Unless it becomes a priority, it will become a national security issue. On this World Anti-Counterfeiting Day, let us all pledge to take action and raise awareness to combat this growing problem.
How do we shift young people's attitudes to fakes?
1 April 2023
The last ACG Annual Conference gave us many takeaways. One memorable one emerged from a question directed at a speaker on how to change youth attitudes to buying counterfeits in a time of enormous social media influence.
His reply: “Maybe, we have got to make [it] uncool,” he affirmed.
It was a shrewd, timely and actionable comment. Social media influence might indeed work both ways. With that in mind, I am delighted to read that Harry Styles wants to see action on his own counterfeit problems. He has filed a lawsuit in the US against various online marketplaces selling unofficial merchandise.
The scope of the lawsuit is very broad and requests that "online marketplace platforms such as eBay, AliExpress, Alibaba, Amazon, Wish, Walmart, Etsy, and DHgate shall disable and cease displaying any advertisements used by or associated with defendants in connection with the sale of counterfeit and infringing goods using the Harry Styles trademarks".
Something certainly needs to happen, and quickly.
The last European Observatory survey scoreboard on youth attitudes to IP infringement suggested things were getting worse, not better, in terms of buying counterfeits, although digital piracy paradoxically might be seeing positive signs.
A staggering 37% of young people bought one or several fake products intentionally in the 12 months prior to the survey. 21% of 15- to 24-year-olds say they intentionally used illegal sources of digital content in the last 12 months. But around 60% of young Europeans said they prefer to access digital content from legal sources, compared to 50% in 2019.
Price and availability remain the main factors for buying, but these “external” factors are difficult for us to influence.
Buying fakes make seem a harmless decision to young people on the surface, but counterfeits and fakes can have drastic consequences, ranging from the loss of money and time to the potential of supporting criminal activity. The most effective way to discourage young people from buying counterfeits and fakes is to educate them on the dangers and risks associated with these products. By providing facts and concrete examples, young people can gain a better understanding of the consequences and be dissuaded from taking this path.
Against this, there are possible message responses. What message would make a difference, what would communicate ‘uncool’? The influencer may help change the narrative here. An infringed influencer could be the best future chess piece in our anti-counterfeiting strategy, using their influence and audience to share the wider impact of buying fakes
Basic messaging on counterfeits is part of the same tack, too. Survey evidence suggests it might help, regardless of influencer involvement. Some while back, the UKIPO examined the communications and messaging challenges in a major report.
A few general takeaways: people under 35 were more likely to buy counterfeit goods and messaging should take this into account. Clear, evidenced messaging about buying counterfeits saw most people rethink their stance. Beyond personal safety, respondents rated global concerns such as slavery relatively highly, but economic arguments such as the impact on jobs and communities did less well.
The best way to discourage young people from purchasing counterfeits and fakes is to educate them on the dangers and risks associated with these products. This can be done through a variety of methods, including public service and social media campaigns, school programmes, and online resources. These campaigns should focus on providing facts and concrete examples to give young people a better understanding of the real consequences of purchasing counterfeit and fake goods.
Focussing on strong evidence-based messaging when it comes to our campaigns will help the cause and we need more public figures standing up to the counterfeiters like Harry Styles too.
Wednesday 8 June 2022
World Anti-Counterfeiting Day
On world ant counterfeiting day, it is important to remind ourselves of figures produced by the World Economic Forum, which reveal that overall illicit trade is robbing the global economy of USD $2.2 trillion. This equates to nearly 3% of world wealth and evermore transnational dangers.
The 2021 EUIPO and the OECD joint study confirms that, within the global illicit trade figure, counterfeiting & piracy is now worth $464 billion USD. This is draining the UK economy of £4 billion. Moreover, almost 7 million counterfeit goods seized by Europe’s customs authorities have been found to be dangerous to the health and safety of consumers. These included food and beverages, body care articles, medicines, electrical household goods and toys. In recent months ACG has been warning about the dangers resulting from seizures of fake chocolate bars, motorcycle accessories and super strength vapes aimed at children.
There is clearly no simple solution to illicit trade. This needs to be targeted from multiple angles and ACG is working with UK authorities under the new, multi sector, national strategy to update and synchronise strategic, legislative and policy frameworks to combat this menacing and sinister trade, which is increasingly endangering the UK economy, business and consumers.
Tuesday 14 September 2021
Why are there so many consultation exercises being initiated over the past few months? And do these consultation responses actually have any effect?
As many of our members know, ACG has recently responded to numerous Government consultations. These have covered everything form the future of the UK IP Exhaustion Regime, proposed changes to the Copyright Designs and Patent Act, Product Safety, Reforming Competition and consumer policy to the draft Online Safety Bill.
To make a persuasive response to these, has taken time and effort and the research required has often been both burdensome and time-consuming.
Let’s talk about consultations exercises.
It is clear that consultations are now an established feature of the UK legislative process. There are several reasons for this, to help motivate the Government in meeting their statutory responsibility by:
Sometimes the reasons cover all three questions.
"Are used to “inform” Parliament and they offer an opportunity for those, outside of Government, to influence Ministers, before the important stages take place." - Phil Lewis
In this way, they have become essential elements in the policy development process and are particularly important when considering complex issues, such as the future IP Exhaustion Regime.
There have been 5,847 open and closed consultations this year!
Dealing with a huge range of policy areas. Every Government Department will have carried out their analysis differently, depending on the issue being considered.
However, what is common, is that civil servants take consultation exercises extremely seriously. Their objective is to find out how best to ensure Ministers are fully and accurately informed. Meaning that every response will be read by one or more people. Furthermore, individual policy leaders will also have responsibility for individual responses, specifically aligned to their particular areas of expertise.
Unfortunately, putting persuasive narratives together in response to consultations can be tedious and arduous.
As the ACG is a go-to organisation, for Government, in many areas related to IP and enforcement. We can take some solace in the fact that we are regarded as a credible and influential force and this is why our contributions are highly sought after on so many policy areas, in both open and closed and consultations.
Monday 12 July 2021
Global Trade in Fakes worth a staggering $464 billion USD
At the 4th International IP Enforcement Summit, held at the end of June this year, the OECD and the European Intellectual Property Office announced their latest report on the Global Trade in Fakes. The report revealed that the international trade in counterfeit goods amounts to $464 billion USD and represents 2.5% of world trade. This is a fall from their previous calculation, which estimated that the global trade in 2016 was worth $509 billion. However, the drop is understandable as the new report covered a period, which included the pandemic and a time when both legal and illicit supply chains were severely disrupted. Here at ACG we predict the trend will rise again as countries open up and we want our members to help us get this problem to the top of our government’s agenda. However, it’s not just our government we need to influence, this is a global problem that affects every country, small and large.
The OECD EUIPO report reveals that some trends never seem to change. China remains the primary source country and the range of counterfeit products continues to change and grow. This has partially been caused by demand, during the height of the pandemic, when consumers and businesses were restricted and turned to the internet and e-commerce to fulfil their needs. As we know, the counterfeiting criminals were swift to seize the opportunity and global enforcement authorities reported huge increases in fake and substandard medicines, testing kits, and personal protective clothing. But we cannot ignore the fact that consumers also engaged in therapeutic buying and that this added to the dilemma faced by customs and postal services across the world, who were dealing with an exponential rise in small packages for direct delivery to people’s homes. Customs authorities report that, last year, 77% of all counterfeit goods seized were discovered in deliveries carried by postal and express courier services.
What is clear is that counterfeiters are becoming ever more adept at getting their illicit goods from source and transit countries to their main consumer markets, including the UK, Europe, and the USA. The trade routes are becoming more complex, and the growing rise of “lightly governed” free trade zones and freeports are adding to the problem. The potential to infiltrate the One Belt Road (OBOR) from China to Europe and the risks surrounding Chinese managed ports in Italy and Greece add to the concerns of many in the industry.
The OBOR project is likely to bring goods and attract manufacturing closer to main markets across the continent and there can be little doubt that counterfeiters will seek to make use of stops along the land and sea routes to offload production supplies and onboard completed products.
But the OBOR project can also have wider economic impacts. For example, a motorway planned to link Montenegro with Serbia has proven to be uneconomically viable, partly due to the impact of the pandemic, and this has left Montenegro with a loan debt that could undermine its whole economy. The uneasy concern, for some, is that if China decides to relieve Montenegro of the current contract position, then the OBOR project could become even more attractive to other country partners throughout Europe.
The impact of the pandemic has undoubtedly shone a flashlight on problems outside of the health dilemma. Many European countries report that the number of crimes committed in 2020 dropped by 64% compared to 2019. However, according to Interpol, the pandemic changed the crime landscape and created ideal conditions for organised criminals to put their traditional skills to new use. Fraud, deception and participating in illicit markets have always been key aspects of organised crime and the consumer shift towards the internet and e-commerce simply opened another door.
The question is whether politicians properly understand the risks. We have already seen a refusal for dangerous counterfeits to be included in the Online Safety Bill. What we at ACG need to ensure, over the next year, when the Government is looking to rebuild the economy, is that they fully understand the dangers of allowing criminals to extract £4 billion in taxes and £11 billion in sales revenue from the UK economy, which is then used for other forms of organised crime instead of funding jobs and vital public services.
Thursday 27 May 2021
How counterfeiting has changed status in the EU
In 2010, the EU set up a four-year policy cycle to provide more effective planning and a stronger capacity to combat serious and organised international crime. The full policy cycle started in 2013 and covered a period of four years until 2017
Inherent in the plan was greater collaboration between law enforcement agencies, related EU institutions and relevant third parties “to deal with the most pressing criminal threats facing the EU”.
IP rights holders were delighted that counterfeiting was included in the initial cycle, with an aim to disrupt organised crime gangs involved in the production and distribution of counterfeit goods that violate health & safety. Although the definition seemed to be narrow, in reality it was recognised that all counterfeits hold a threat to consumers, business and economies. In addition, it was widely acknowledged that profits from counterfeiting also seed fund other forms of international crime.
With a recognition that the EU Policy Cycle for organised and serious international crime brought greater focus and cooperation, a decision was taken in 2017, to renew the plan for the period 2018 - 2021. However, on this occasion, IP crime was excluded. The reason? That there had been failure in evidencing the organised crime threat. We in the anti-counterfeiting world were appalled. Through the industry of the OECD and the European Intellectual Property Office we had been provided with the most detailed and indelible statistics on the scope and scale of the problem. At the time the figures showed that the global trade in counterfeiting was $461 billion and that over 80% of fake goods were being manufactured and transported from South East Asia. Moreover, EU customs figures revealed that over 30% of fake goods arriving at EU ports were dangerous to health and safety. To us it was clear, the sheer scale and scope of this illicit trade could not have been established and maintained unless through the involvement of transnational, organised, criminal networks.
Fortunately, the EUIPO had had the foresight to continue to fund a specialised unit at Europol to deal with counterfeiting and therefore, IP crime continued to be on the EU enforcement radar and numerous successes were gained.
The reasons for IP crime’s exclusion are still not clear. However, rights owners promised to make sure that international counterfeiting was no longer disregarded as a threat. For three years the community worked together to provide the right evidence and as a result, we are delighted that the EU Council of Ministers has now concluded that counterfeiting will be included in the 2022-2025 EU’s crime priorities for the fight against serious and organised crime.
Some may ask why is this important to the UK now that we have left the EU. Well, as most people in the IP world agree it is impossible to combat transnational organised crime, without a broad response aimed at reducing domestic counterfeiting, alongside a coordinated cross-border enforcement effort.
Combating the transnational nature of modern organised crime needs joined-up priorities and strategies. The EU decision is great news for the fight against IP crime in the EU and it will hopefully help to influence UK thinking on prioritisations and cross-border cooperation.
Thursday 18 February 2021
Online Harms Bill needs to recognise the growing threat of dangerous counterfeit goods
Over the past year there has been a recharge of interest in cyber security threats, which have flourished during the pandemic restrictions. This was a somewhat predictable outcome. Criminals have always been quick to recognise new opportunities and the fact that consumers and business became more reliant on website stores and e-commerce for their home and business necessities, opened a very lucrative door.
During the year we witnessed a huge range of online attacks against UK consumers and businesses. These included fake websites, methods to get malware into user’s devices, fraudulent online advertising, emails containing malicious code to infect computers, identity theft, ransomware, phishing and online fraud.
All this has been reflected by Government in various initiatives and policies. Strangely though, despite this being the “golden age” for intellectual property (IP), product counterfeiting has been largely ignored, except that is for solitary mentions about fake COVID-19 PPE and remedies
As we all know, IP is the lifeblood of many companies and the economy. An important study by the UK Intellectual Property Office bears this up. UK industries using trademarks, alone, to protect their products contribute 37% to our overall GDP and provide 23% of employment.
Losing data to criminals can be costly and distressing but counterfeiting and the theft of intellectual property threatens a company’s future. Official estimates reveal that the UK loses £1.3 billion in unpaid tax from the sale of counterfeit goods and that this figure is growing.
ACG members need no reminding that counterfeiting is everywhere, and dangerous fakes are being indiscriminately marketed and sold online, in growing quantities. These now threaten what we eat and drink, the household goods we use, what we wear, the toys our children play with and the auto parts we rely on. Most recently the attack has been on protective clothing, medicines, medical devices and most recently vaccines.
In fact, the EU’s RAPEX system related to products being unsafe and counterfeit has revealed that 97% of recorded goods, assessed as counterfeit, posed a serious health and safety risk.
However, these dangers are once again being seen as purely business-related and continually overlooked by government policymakers.
There is no quick fix to counterfeiting, but the Government’s proposed Online Harms Bill would help to reduce the considerable risks. However, the White Paper delivered to Parliament in December does nothing to recognise the growing threat of dangerous counterfeit goods. In fact, the Government has constantly, refused to accept the argument that counterfeiting is now a severe health and safety threat, despite the appearance of fake anti-COVID products.
Now more than ever it is time for the UK to follow the US and EU lead and ensure that consumers and business are protected from the selling of dangerous fakes online, in the same way that they are protected from physical markets and retail sellers.
ACG will continue to lobby hard, with partners, to emphasise that protecting consumers, protects business. If Government fails to see the link, then we will all be at increasing risk and huge profits will continue falling into criminal hands, at a time when we need to protect our communities and rebuild our economy.
Thursday 21 January 2021
How low can counterfeiters go?
As we know, the pandemic has given rise to massive increases in COVID-19 related counterfeiting. But if you ever needed convincing about the lowest morals and conscience of counterfeiters and their commitment to take advantage of anyone, in any situation, it has been their aim to sell and make profit from counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines.
Even as we finally begin to see a way out of the pandemic, when lives are at stake and people are naturally fragile and anxious, you can count on these obnoxious criminals to see it as an opportunity. Europol has warned that advertisements for ‘approved’ counterfeit vaccines are now appearing online, on social media sites and in dark web marketplaces. Moreover, enforcement agencies across the world are predicting that fake adverts will be on the increase. In fact, an Australian study found almost 650 listings on just 12 dark web sites and here at home, PIPCU arrested and charged a fraudster, claiming to work for the NHS, who injected a 92-year-old woman with a fake COVID-19 serum. A nice guy.
What’s become clear is that counterfeiters have realised even more openings to prey on people’s instabilities. Firstly, there are people who want a vaccine in the hope that they can avoid testing positive for the virus. The fear being that they cannot afford to be out of work for a period of time or that they could lose their jobs altogether. Then there are those who are part of the “casual” workforce, who have fewer opportunities to take sick leave and would face higher financial troubles if they need to isolate. Finally, there are those who simply want to be first in the queue. The result is that many see black market buying as a way-out and of course counterfeiters know this.
On a wider scale, the pandemic has profoundly changed the world as we know it. It has hugely disrupted global supply chains and has led to an overall decline in global trade. In addition, there has been a huge consumer shift towards e-commerce buying, as people have responded to the crisis by ditching traditional methods of shopping. However, consumers have not only migrated to panic-buying for basic household and hygiene products, they have also moved to online sites for their groceries. We should again be aware that business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce buying has also grown. But we also need to be mindful of the fact that, despite lockdowns and social restrictions, people still need to feel good and therapeutic online shopping for luxury items has flourished and is likely to continue post-COVID restrictions.
Counterfeiters are fully aware of all the potentials, but to sustain their menacing trade they have also needed to change their ways of working. Simply moving online has not been enough and therefore, “nearshoring”, sometimes known as “reshoring”, has been adopted. This is the practice of transferring production and manufacturing from international locations to more domestic bases. So, we now need to be on the lookout for the emergence of more production plants within the UK. All this while Trading Standards, police and Border Force officers have been turned towards COVID and BREXIT issues and other competing priorities.
Much of this has been said before, but these are complex messages. So, now more than ever we need a concerted communication effort by Government to stem demand and prevent huge rafts of money falling into criminal hands, to fund other forms of trafficking and illicit trade, while we will be trying to re-build our fragile economy.
ACG will be raising this at every opportunity.
Friday 30 October 2020
Online shopping expected to soar
A few weeks ago I read the latest National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC) threat report, which coincided with Amazon’s 5th annual Prime Day sale, which was Amazon’s largest retail event. It brought to mind similar and imminent “deal days” and events, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which will soon stimulate even more online buying.
This years’ shopping events come at a time when, consumers have proven to be even more interconnected with internet shopping, particularly during the ongoing coronavirus restrictions. Moreover, a growing fear about whether Christmas shopping could be severely disrupted is likely to be an even greater driver towards online sites, platforms, apps and earlier buying trends.
According to ADOBE Analytics Data, 37% of consumers in the UK now use an app for online purchases, compared to 24% last year, with a 20% increase in searches for gifts. Further research reveals that consumers are now more inclined to order electrical appliances and home and garden articles online.
However, online sales of alcohol (+28%) and health products, such as vitamins and minerals (34%) have also increased.
The onset of further social restrictions, added to the closure or reduction in capacity of high street shops and retail outlets, plus intense competition between major platforms and online retailers and earlier Christmas shopping means we can expect another huge rise in online purchasing.
While this is good for many, data shows that counterfeiters and cyber criminals have been increasing their activities. The World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 pandemic announcement suggests a strong indication that cyber criminals are gearing up for a profitable run up to deal days and the Christmas holiday period.
The problem, as we well know, is that counterfeiters and scammers also closely monitor sales figures and forecasts. The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has confirmed that counterfeiters were stockpiling during the previous “Covid” lockdown period and are ready for the next online shopping uplift. Unfortunately, the NCSC confirms that online scams are becoming harder to detect and that it is vitally important to be vigilant. In anticipation of malicious activity, this year it has already produced guidance on how to shop securely whilst online
With almost 40% of counterfeit goods, detained at borders, now proven to be dangerous to the health and safety of consumers, ACG members will be doing our bit to help protect business and consumers, by gathering intelligence and working with a huge range of partners including the National Markets Group, Trading Standards, Border Force and police to help identify and nullify threats. We will also be issuing our own guidance on how to avoid fake products and choke the profits, which are feeding the illicit trafficking of people and drugs, destroying businesses, jobs and local economies and ultimately threatening our families on a daily basis.
Tuesday 21 August 2020
Does the UK still lead the way in fighting counterfeiting?
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the global trade in counterfeit products is now worth $509 billion. In the UK alone, the sale of fakes results in 60,000 lost jobs and £9 billion in much needed revenue, which could be used to help re-build our economy and support vital public services. Instead it falls into the hands of organised crime. What’s more, the EU’s Rapid Exchange of Information System, on unsafe consumer products, reveals that over 90% of all recorded counterfeit goods now pose a clear health risk.
There are many who believe that the UK has not kept pace with this pervasive menace and that our safeguards are not as strong as once reported. Six years ago, the UK was a designated world leader in Intellectual Property (IP). The successful, protection and enforcement work of the UK Intellectual Property Office has been largely responsible for this accolade. However, in the wider IP enforcement policy outline, other countries appear to be forging ahead of us.
As an example, I was delighted to read a recent statement from our US partner, the Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade (TRACIT), about new US legislation to combat the online sales of stolen, counterfeit, and dangerous consumer products. Jeff Hardy the Director General of TRACIT commented that the new “Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers Act” (INFORM), will motivate e-commerce platforms to build greater transparency by improving the verification process for third-party sellers. This will be an important step in protecting consumers and businesses from fraud, counterfeiting and other forms of illicit trade.
The INFORM legislation followed President Trump’s Memorandum on Combating Trafficking in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods, which provides a clear direction for Government action on combat counterfeiting. Since its release, US agencies such as the Department for Homeland Security (DHS) and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have developed integral plans to fight counterfeiting piracy.
The latest DHS plan reflects the economic dangers and the aim to ensure counterfeiting is stopped at source. It also recognises that Government action alone is not enough to bring about much needed changes to stem the tide of counterfeit goods and that relevant private-sector stakeholders have a critical role to play.
Alongside this, CBP is also changing its processes to ensure that parties involved in importing lower value goods have acceptable duties of care. The view is that the growth of e-commerce has provided illicit sellers with more opportunity to sell unsafe and unregulated products to U.S. consumers. Under the new rules, foreign importers will now need to provide key information, which will be critical to CBP’s efforts to identify shipments of counterfeit goods that can harm consumers and business.
The EU is also forging ahead with plans to fight counterfeiting whilst protecting consumers and businesses. Following on from several communications on tackling illegal content online, the European Commission’s draft Digital Services Act contains proposals to introduce obligations on e-commerce platforms to more proactively screen and prevent the sale of counterfeit goods.
It is true that the UK has not entirely sat on its hands and several intellectual property policy related initiatives have been introduced, which have the potential to improve the protection of consumers, business and the economy from the impact of counterfeiting. However, unlike the US which sees integration with all business sectors as paramount, UK plans either fail to acknowledge the growing threat to consumers and business from dangerous counterfeit goods or block brands and designers from participating in key programs.
Brands and designers contribute 39% to UK employment and 26% to our overall GDP, yet they are excluded from almost all aspects of the Creative Industries Sector Deal, Round Table initiative, which considers new Codes of Practice for social media and online marketplaces. More than this, dangerous counterfeits are not included within the Government’s proposed Online Harms Bill, with the argument that “the focus of the policy is on the protection, safety and well-being of individual users rather than organisations”. There is also a fear that the new Digital Task Force strategy only appears to strengthen enforcement in relation to competitive conduct.
These are UK initiatives that have the possibility to restore our position as the top country for IP protection and enforcement. But we need a collaborative national response to counterfeiting which is an insidious and growing threat. At the moment we look to be falling behind. The worry is that if we continually fail to recognise that e-commerce has given counterfeiters added opportunities to threaten the safety of our consumers and businesses and we then restrict the prospect of our precious bands and designers contributing to develop more cohesive strategies, we may not only fail to rebuild our economy but also open ourselves up to new threats.
Tuesday 14 July 2020
Counterfeit is not a Trend
I was recently asked to comment on the role of internet ”influencers”. In short, these are often celebrities and renowned people who use online channels to guide consumers’ on buying decisions, through their knowledge, expertise, or simply through their relationships with fans and followers.
“Influencers” have the capability to engage huge numbers of passionate followers, through social media platforms. As a result, many major companies have become enthusiastic users of this marketing trend, using actors and sports stars to promote new products and services.
However, this is not solely the territory of superstars. A myriad of “micro influencers” also exist, who are simply everyday people who have become known for their knowledge about a specialist area. This can impact on as many as 40,000 followers on a single social media platform.
Most influencers care about the products and views they promote and the consumers they are in touch with. However, there is a rise in fake and reckless influencers, who use their position and the positions of others to promote bogus views and claims. Some of the most outrageous have been that 5G mobile phone networks have helped to spread COVID19 and that smoking, alcohol and sugars strengthen the immune system to fight the virus.
On top of this we are seeing reckless influencers touting counterfeit products, such as jewellery, mobile phones, makeup, alcohol and household appliances. Most of these goods are not only trash, that damage the reputation of legitimate companies’ businesses, but are increasingly dangerous.
Counterfeiters know that money is tighter because of the pandemic and that there will be greater demand and opportunities to sell counterfeit goods. They also know they can use social media influencers, who either have no knowledge or care that most of the fake products they promote will have been made using forced labour and that the profits will be used to boost other forms of crime, such as people trafficking, drugs and weapons.
We all need to be aware that international counterfeiters are out there looking for our hard-earned cash to further their criminal enterprises and they have no care for our welfare. On top of this local economies and legitimate shops are being hugely damaged and jobs will become even scarcer.
We need to be very watchful about what we buy and who we listen to.
Thursday 4 June 2020
Criminals flout lockdown rules by selling fakes in Cheetham Hill, Manchester
Despite lockdown restrictions on legitimate shops, and social distancing measures for the public, counterfeiting criminals are continuing their illicit trade in fake goods.
Over 50 outlets are, once again, openly selling counterfeit goods in a network of streets in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, directly opposite HMP Strangeways. Deeper investigations have also revealed that more fake and fabricated items, to fight the pandemic, are on the way into the country. Alongside this, latest range, of counterfeit junk, the criminals have also been stockpiling and storing in readiness for reduced crisis controls. Many of these fakes are inflammable and recklessly stored in premises in the area, which presents an immediate risk to consumers.
ACG members, Police and Trading Standards have been battling counterfeiting criminals in Cheetham Hill for years but despite their huge efforts UK businesses are still under attack. ACG has written to Priti Patel (Secretary of State for the Home Department) to highlight the current threats. We have also informed Andy Burnham (Mayor of Greater Manchester, Ian Hopkins the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Keir Starmer and the Labour Policy Forum.
Despite the huge efforts and sacrifices that have been made by businesses and the public to help overcome the COVID19 crisis. Counterfeiters in Cheetham Hill have snubbed and flouted the rules, taking advantage to build and grow their illicit trade.
So, while businesses are fighting to keep themselves alive and consumers are looking for ways to keep themselves and their families safe, these callous criminals are once again profiting from a new opportunity to sell fake goods, which often feed other dangerous and serious crimes.
We are calling on all political leaders to take conclusive action to rid ourselves of this counterfeiting scourge. How we can expect to re-build our economy unless we finally deal with these criminals who are openly breaking the rules and destroying our prized businesses?
The answer so far, I am sorry to say, has been silence and the words “Too difficult box spring to mind”. We need political support for a multi-agency and cross-party task force to end this menace.
I wonder if the situation would be allowed to go on in other areas of the UK?
Write to your MP now and join the campaign.
Thursday 14 May 2020
As you know by now I have always felt that strong legislation is vital, but in reality it has never been enough to deter hardened criminals involved in intellectual property (IP) crime https://www.a-cg.org/useful_info/intellectual-property
Unfortunately, due to its global nature, no single body is going to crack the problem. So, it is no surprise that it is my continued belief that we are ‘stronger together’ and that ACG is constantly building on our successful national and international partnerships and collaborations to combat IP crime.
£15m of counterfeit goods seized by sharing resources
The work being done by ACG to build intelligence led operations has been about pooling our collective strengths and focusing our precious resources on key targets. As a result, it led to over £15m worth of counterfeit goods being removed from physical and online markets last year and is testimony to what can be achieved when we work together. We know that Trading Standards, Police and Border Force have all been working with competing priorities and diminished resources, so the intelligence that ACG members provides is a driving force for “real” public-private sector collaboration to tackle the organised criminals involved in product counterfeiting.
ACG successfully delivers virtual IP training to 60 officers
Equally important, is giving enforcers up to date knowledge and understanding about growing threats and trends associated with counterfeiting. Our Roadshows and training events underpin all of our operational efforts and I was delighted last week when our first online IP training event, for Trading Standards (TS) in the London region, took place. This was jointly organised by the ACG team and Sean Rovai of Tower Hamlets TS and it was a great success, attracting national and international speakers and over 60 attendees. As a result, we are now planning to work with Trading Standards to widen these types of events to cover authorities across the whole of the UK.
Exciting US collaboration
But cooperation doesn’t need to be a narrow objective. In March, I met with the White House Intellectual Property Executive Coordinator https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/office-u-s-intellectual-property-enforcement-coordinator-ipec/
The IPEC team has recently been involved in an operation, which intensified collaboration between multiple US enforcement agencies and industry representatives to combat growing criminal activity surrounding the COVID-19. “Operation Stolen Promise” involved over 130 nationwide investigations and the seizure of over three million dollars in illicit proceeds. A clear example of what cross sector cooperation can achieve. https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/ice-hsi-launches-operation-stolen-promise
On the back of our own national efforts, I am delighted to say that the IPEC team has now stretched their hands across the Atlantic to invite ACG to work with them on joint initiatives. We are currently developing our proposals for international cooperation and we will be happy to include any suggestions from our members.
We know that collaboration takes energy and commitment, but we are stronger together and the potential rewards this can bring are crystal-clear.
To learn more about our successes in 2019 and latest news go to https://www.a-cg.org/newsdesk/latest-news/article/acg-launch-its-annual-report https://www.a-cg.org/newsdesk/latest-news
Thursday 30 April 2020
Boring!!!……but is it really
At this time of crisis, I felt that I should be writing about issues surrounding COVID19 and the things we are doing. But eventually we will be coming out of this dark time and I thought it might be worth turning to the future.
A key question is how we will be interacting with ecommerce platforms. The pandemic has already shown that consumers and business are becoming more interconnected with e-shopping and 60% are saying they will continue to buy online when the crisis is over.
So, ensuring e-commerce platforms and other technology companies will properly protect us will be crucial. The EU has realised the importance and has drafted a “Digital Services Act” (DSA), which aims to compel service providers to remove illegal content or face the threat of sanctions. The law will mean that social media and other platforms will be subject to mandatory “notice and take down” orders. This will force them to remove illegal content or face fines. Brussels policymakers say that the DSA would allow them to write specific rules for all parts of the sector, including Internet Service Providers (ISPs), search giants such as Google, cloud services and social media platforms such as Facebook. This legislation will be the first in the world to oversee content on digital platforms and the aim is to establish the Act at the end of 2020.
At ACG we have been engaging with partners in the EU, to support the Commission. However, we have asked for specific changes, including a requirement for proactive EU-wide measures to “prevent” offers of illegal goods to consumers and to detect the distribution of illegal goods.
We had hoped that the DSA would work alongside the UK’s Online Harms white paper to help protect intellectual property (IP). However, the Government has now dropped online fraud and IP violations from the current draft. We are working with partners including the Alliance for IP, Lord McNally, and the Carnegie Trust to try to change current thinking. In this way it will link with the EU’s intent on creating a world class digital service regime that protects all.
Finally, as we all know, online marketplaces and payment providers have crucial information and sharing data on illegal activity with law enforcement must be a duty of any legitimate business. This is a another point we will be really pushing. The EU has rightfully pointed to a digital world, which places people at its heart and all stakeholders must embrace this and accept that what is illegal offline should be illegal online.
Bearing in mind what’s happening now, in terms of online shopping, I think we have to grasp a genuine opportunity to make a difference for the future. But we need strong data and information on the harms that members face. If we can’t provide the “smoking gun” then I fear the UK will fall behind, to the detriment of our businesses and consumers. Please join in and let us have what you can.
Tuesday 14 April 2020
On 11 March the World Health Organisation announced that Coronavirus had officially been recognised as a global pandemic. From that moment there has been an unimaginable change in the way we live our lives. Within no time, we moved from taking care, to “wash our hands to avoid infection”, to travel bans, lockdowns and isolation to stop the spread of infection and protect our overloaded health and care services
During this time, many of our communities, families and friends have suffered devastating losses as a result of this insidious virus and it seems that there is much we still don’t know about the disease. So, it is natural that many people are fearful and are trying to find guidance and recommendations, from as many sources as possible, to help protect our families and friends. Unfortunately, what we are finding is that much of the information on the web and on social media turns out to be bogus.
In the midst of all this, many of our prized businesses are also in danger and are looking at how they can best protect their operations, products and assets. The threats are rising day by day but this time they are being added to by parasitic criminals who are working overtime, to profit from the situation, by manufacturing, marketing and selling counterfeits of every description. The ‘fakers’ are in production overdrive and as a result, our valued businesses are in danger of being devastated by losing market share to criminal enterprises.
The concern is that this will not stop, and they will continue to stockpile, so that even when we finally come out of this alarming time we may well be at the mercy of a veritable tidal wave of fake goods.
The question is whether this is the right time to suspend brand protection? The criminals know that government and enforcement are being diverted. Therefore, we will need to look to ourselves to ensure that counterfeiters are not given a free reign to devastate legal markets, revenue, growth and jobs.
ACG has continued to build its intelligence records and we are working with anti-counterfeiting associations across Europe and the US to raise greater awareness. Together we have been urging Governments to understand that the emergency response message should not simply be about ‘profiteering’. We need measures to help protect the public from fake, falsified and substandard medical products and medicines. But counterfeiters will not only be focusing on medical commodities they will be continuing to manufacture their usual products and stockpiling in readiness for the crisis to subside. So even if current sales of fakes fall off, they will be ready. The question is, are we?
ACG believes that there has never been a more important time to have people in place who can develop partnerships and strategies, tailored to meet current and future needs. Brand protection managers are a central pivot in this by structuring plans, identifying threats, supporting overstretched enforcement authorities and re-building business reputations and confidence.
Strong brand protection starts with effective IP protection strategies to make sure counterfeiters are continuously kept at bay. Brand protection managers are key in this and shelving brand protection, now, hands the advantage to the criminals and sends the wrong message to Government and enforcers.
Stay safe everyone.
Thursday 19 December 2019
Dear all, well another festive season is almost upon us and as UK shoppers chase down the best Christmas and New Year deals it gives me the chance to thank everyone in the ACG community for your wonderful support during the year.
I think we can all take a deep breath and agree that it’s been quite a year. A time in which, we have managed to achieve some hugely impressive results, despite an incessant growth in the trade in counterfeit goods and the continuous political and constitutional unrest, which has impacted on our precious enforcement resources. I am really indebted to all our members and of course to our small team for what you have done, together, to combat this insidious crimewave.
However, as 2019 ends it may also be a time to reflect on how big a challenge we are really up against and what we are likely to face next year?
Earlier this year the OECD and European Intellectual Property Office study offered us a clear portrait of the escalating threats, when they confirmed that the worldwide scope and scale of IP crime is now worth $509 billion and that almost 7% of all products imported into the EU are now counterfeit. What’s more is that 37% of these products were confirmed to be dangerous to consumers.
This study was followed up by a further report by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and the OECD, which established that the overall UK market in fake goods is now worth £13.6 billion. These most recent results also highlighted that the total value of lost sales, as a result of counterfeits being smuggled into the UK, was over £9 billion. The result was over 60,000 job losses and a £4 billion reduction in UK public revenue.
I have always believed that ACG’s great strength has been our capacity to put differences aside and work together to fight this insidious menace in a far-reaching range of approaches. Here are just a few highlights of our joint successes.
In terms of raising awareness and building education, we have continued to deliver our IP Roadshows, to ensure the widest range of enforcers have the benefit of our members’ expertise and experiences. We have added to this by the introduction of specific training workshops, on brand protection and intelligence management. All have been highly regarded and helped lead us to being invited to become a member of the Home Office Economic Crime Strategic Board. As a result, we had significant input into the United Nations Inter-Regional Crime institute’s strategy on combating transnational crime.
Knowledge building is a key aim for ACG and we have regularly presented and raised awareness at major international summits, universities and high level events, including our own Anti-Illicit Trade workshop, and the UK IPR Protection Summit, which we co-hosted together with the IPO and the Alibaba Group. Besides this, we have increased our media presence and have contributed to numerous high-level initiatives and studies. We have also concentrated on further developing our connections with UK, European and international associations. These will be vital as we leave the EU, as will our growing global partnerships which include; new alliances with the major EU anti-counterfeiting groups, TRACIT and ACACAP. At home our growing involvement in the UK’s National Consumer Federation’s enforcement group, numerous All-Party Parliamentary Groups and the Road Haulage Security Forum is also helping to build wider approaches.
Our engagement work extends well above this short list and we will continue to build on these successes in 2020. However, our greatest visibility is naturally our intelligence led operational work, facilitated by Graham Mogg, ACG ‘s Intelligence Coordinator. Graham’s work with our members, Trading Standards, Border Force, Police and with the National Markets Group (NMG) has resulted in the disruption of some major organised crime gangs and the identification of real opportunities to mitigate the growing threats to our members’ brands. Well over 100 raids have been jointly carried out this year, which have netted over a quarter of a million counterfeit products, with a value in excess of £10,000,000. Furthermore, our work with Border Force on “intensification exercises” at major UK airports, have resulted in thousands of fake goods being detained at UK borders.
In effect, having Graham as Chair of the NMG means that our members are able to play a valuable role in preventing and halting the infiltration of both traditional and online markets and we will continue to support NMG in all aspects of their work.
So, in conclusion, I simply want to thank you, personally, for your continued support for everything you have done in 2019. Having such a committed membership is hugely appreciated by the team and the ACG Board. Our members are a tangible example of collaborative working and as a result we are able to support our treasured enforcement resources, whilst building even greater public awareness of the menace we face from criminals that have no conscience about the harm and devastation they bring to families, business, communities, and local and national economies.
Have a great Christmas and a very happy and successful New Year.
Wednesday 24th July 2019
Over the past year the ACG team has been concentrating more and more on ensuring we offer our members a wider and more balanced set of services. These services range from driving intelligence led, operational collaboration and support, to working with high level politicians, policy makers and enforcement decision takers to raise higher levels of consciousness about the growing dangers associated with counterfeiting.
Under Graham’s leadership, our intelligence coordination function has gone from strength to strength, with tremendous successes across the UK, including recent coordinated ACG raid actions alongside the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), and numerous operations, carried out across England and Wales, alongside Trading Standards, Border Force, ACG brand representatives and the National Markets Group (NMG). As a result of all this effort, we have extended our partnerships across borders and have even been contacted by CERN, (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) and UNICRI (the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute) to help with a new system aimed at tracking transnational criminal networks.
The truth is that none of this ‘on the ground’ work can be achieved without the constant build-up of a huge network of partners. In fact ACG’s great strength is being able to foster and work with a growing landscape of public and private sector allies, to develop common plans and goals. This often takes chains of meetings to simply raise awareness, but in many cases it also relies on old fashioned ‘lobbying’ to press and influence politicians and officials.
In reality, people often regard lobbying as being confrontational, but in my experience gaining strong government support relies, more heavily, on getting a well evidenced case across, to help identify compromise and then cooperation. Our operational work gives us a tangible narrative based on real evidence.
This has become ever clearer to me since I came into the Director General role. Political stances and priorities can change quickly; as can the politicians and civils servants you deal with. A one-time opponent can quickly become a partner. In lobbying, antagonising or alienating today’s contacts can often lead to enduring animosity, while negotiating win-win agreements very often lead to long-standing affiliations.
On this basis, the ACG team has been working hard to build our connections and networks in the UK, the EU and on the international landscape. We have been taking part in more and more high profile events, including our recent Anti Illicit Trade and Counterfeiting Workshop, which led to an output report and 12 point plan, which has been disseminated to key enforcement officials across the UK and the EU. As a result, I am meeting with the Ministerial Adviser on IP to ensure the UK firmly positions respect for intellectual property, brands and enforcement in all future trade agreements
From an enforcement angle, we have also been invited to join the Home Secretary’s Economic Crime Strategic Board and have been central in setting up a Strategy Group to look at how Border Force can develop its work to combat counterfeits arriving at our key airports. Moreover, in the past few months we have been playing a strong role on two key All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG) related to IP and Electrical Safety.
As our connections have widened I’ve often felt that consumers have been a lost voice in our efforts to raise public awareness. To help overcome this gap I’ve been building a relationship with the National Consumer Federation (NCF). The aim being to help develop a more comprehensive approach to awareness raising to better protect consumers from the accelerating dangers associated with counterfeit goods. I’m delighted that Arnold Pindar the Director General of the NCF has warmed to this idea and will be joining me in a meeting with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), which is developing a new research study on IP crime, including associated ties to other forms of transnational organised crime.
In November, we hold our Annual Conference in London and I am excited that high level representatives from UK Government, enforcement and the USA have signalled their agreement to attend and speak. This will not only give us a flavour of how UK anti-counterfeiting plans are progressing, but we will also have a clearer view of how President Trump’s strategy has developed on the back of his recent memorandum
ACG represents more than 3,000 brands affected by this influx of fakes into the UK and delivers an international network of information, advice and contacts on all aspects of IP protection. Working with Government and law enforcement agencies since 1980, ACG is focused on providing an effective and sustained response to counterfeiting.
Membership with the ACG is the best way to work with government and enforcement bodies to protect your brand. Our Roadshows and training days help you reach out to police, trading standards and border force officers and tell them about your genuine products.