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Operation BIG BEN: Thousands of goods seized during raid on open-air market
12 October 2020
On Saturday 3rd October 2020 a multi-agency raid action led by Hertfordshire Trading Standards in collaboration with the National Markets Group for IP Protection (NMG), Hertfordshire Constabulary, the Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG) and brand holder representatives saw thousands of counterfeit goods seized from Bovingdon Market, Hemel Hempstead.

Established in 2008, the NMG is made up of a partnership of law enforcement, government and industry stakeholders and its OP BIG BEN initiative was created to support market operators who face issues with the sale of counterfeit and pirated goods at their markets.

Bovingdon Market, which sits on the site of the disused Bovingdon Airfield is well known for its offering of counterfeit and pirated goods, with counterfeiters from across the UK travelling there each Saturday and Bank Holiday Monday to ply their illicit trade.

Whilst many consumers are aware of what they are buying, others are duped into believing that they are buying genuine product whilst legitimate businesses, already impacted by reduced sales due to COVID-19 are unable to compete with the low prices charged by the counterfeiters.

The action on Saturday 3rd October 2020 saw 10 stalls raided and thousands of counterfeit and potentially unsafe products seized including clothing, footwear, electrical, perfume, handbags, belts, purses, and badges used for manufacture with a retail value in excess of £200,000. Monies from the sale of such goods often fund other organised crimes such as modern-day slavery, drug supply and money laundering and as shown in the recent UK IP Crime report , this insidious crime robs the state of much needed revenue to fund public services such as the NHS.

Graham Mogg, ACG’s Intelligence Coordinator and Chair of the NMG, who took part in the action said: "Counterfeit products are not only bad news for consumers, but also for legitimate, hard-working local business owners who risk losing sales".

"The NMG is all about taking a collaborative approach to tackle counterfeiting and piracy and we are very grateful for the support that we have received from our partners at Hertfordshire Trading Standards, Hertfordshire Police and all of the rights owners and their representatives who took part in this action.

"We look forward to working alongside the market operator at Bovingdon to ensure that the market offers a fair and equitable trading environment for traders and consumers alike".
Launch of TRACIT report on Fraudulent On-line Advertising
22 July 2020

Today, a long standing partner of the Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG), the Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade (TRACIT), in collaboration with the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), issued a report detailing the growing incidence of fraudulent advertising and counterfeits on popular social networking platforms like Facebook and Instagram and websites like YouTube and Google.

The report shows that seventy major international brands have been targeted by fraudulent advertisements on social platforms, some of which receive up to a quarter of a million views before they are detected.

“It’s alarming that people are exposed to fraudulent advertisements for counterfeits while they’re thumbing through their social media accounts,” said TRACIT Director General Jeffrey Hardy. “The ads are so professional that they easily deceive consumers into thinking they’re getting a great deal. Instead, they’re being diverted to a rogue website that was built specifically to sell and distribute counterfeits – and they’re just not expecting that.”

The report investigates and points out that Internet-based platforms for social networking and shopping from home have inherent systemic weaknesses that are exploited by criminals to sell any variety of counterfeit or illegal product with little risk of apprehension. The lack of sufficient policies and procedures to verify an advertiser’s true identity and limited vetting during the onboarding process are identified as the main vulnerabilities that enable fraudulent advertising online.

“Consumers risk having their payment details stolen, not receiving goods, or buying poor quality or even dangerous products,” said Mr. Hardy. “Counterfeiters are notoriously linked to serious organized crime, spending their profits on illicit drugs, money laundering and corruption, depriving governments, businesses and societies of hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes, sales and jobs.”

TRACIT and AAFA advocate for governments and social platforms to work with brands and law enforcement to do more to protect consumers. The report includes recommendations for websites and social media platforms to gather and verify information on who is utilizing their advertising services, which would improve their ability to proactively identify bad actors and repeat infringers from previously removed accounts. The report also calls for a more rigorous review of an advertisement prior to publication, both algorithmically but also manually where high risk has been flagged.

“The social networking platforms are some of the most popular and most valuable brands in the world,” said Mr. Hardy. “It’s absolutely inconsistent with today’s standards of corporate social responsibility to expose users to such easy forms of fraud. Chasing fraud once it’s loose on the Internet is not effective and leaving legitimate companies to clean up the mess is unfair and unreasonable.”

Additionally, the report suggests the establishment of an e-business license for advertisers, which would require verification of (i) financial disclosures that can be corroborated by third parties (e.g., bank statements), and (ii) physical location information that can be supported by government records or trusted third parties. Such a system could be accompanied by a central registry ideally, managed by a highly secure, disinterested party to maintain the licenses.

“Licenses are required for virtually every aspect of commercial activity in the physical world, so why not for online advertising?” asked Mr. Hardy. “Advertising has long been regulated by governments to ensure that messages are truthful and do not mislead reasonable consumers and I think it’s the responsibility of today’s legislators to make sure these standards apply to our lives online.”

TRACIT and AAFA’s report is available at: www.tracit.org/publications 
TRACIT issues Market Alert on the increase of illicit alcohol in Colombia as consequence of the Covid-19 dry laws
New York, 19 June 2020
TRACIT calls on Colombian government to repeal measures restricting the legal alcohol market
The Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade (TRACIT) issued a statement today, flagging the negative effects of the Colombian Government’s Decree banning the consumption of alcoholic beverages in public places. The organization, known for mitigating illicit trade across industry sectors worldwide, cautions that the negative effects of COVID-19 related dry laws create markets for illicit trade and have significant negative impacts on public health and excise tax revenues.

In its statement, TRACIT reports that the artificial shortage in legitimate product supply caused by the government-imposed dry laws, combined with an alarming rise in the use of e-commerce and other online platforms to commercialize illicit alcohol, have driven the commercialization and distribution of illicit alcoholic beverages.

“Colombia’s dry laws promote the development of a parallel illicit market, represent immense tax loses and present significant risks to consumer health,” said TRACIT Director-General Jeffrey Hardy. “Prohibition measures are counterproductive to our efforts to hold back illicit alcohol and are the last thing we need during the crisis, when health care systems are under strain, businesses are struggling to stay above water and unemployment is swelling.”

The TRACIT statement points out that COVID-19 related alcohol prohibitions have been rare, and in the most cases they were swiftly repealed in the face of rapidly growing markets for illicit trade, toxic alcohol poisoning and tax losses.

“We’ve already witnessed more than 100 deaths in Mexico related to prohibition upsurges in toxic, illicit alcohol, and the Indian government has pulled back prohibitions in response to the rapid decline in tax revenues exactly at a time when public resources are needed most,” said Hardy.

TRACIT called for immediate action by the Colombian Government to repeal all measures that ban or prohibit the consumption of legal alcoholic beverages and to ensure availability and access to legitimate products. It also called on Internet platforms to be more vigilant in preventing and removing offers for illicit alcohol products and to educate consumers that bad actors may exploit digital platforms for the sale of counterfeit, mislabeled and fraudulent products that could pose health risks.

“We do not agree that prohibition is an effective public health measure, because of the stimulus it gives to illicit trade and the negative impacts on consumer health. But we do look forward to working with Colombia over the long run to fight illicit trade in alcohol, including measures to control the production and distribution of alcohol not meant for human consumption.”
Greater Manchester Police: Reinforcing Covid-19 regulations across Strangeways
4 June 2020

Officers from GMP and partner agencies issue 28 prohibition notices

Greater Manchester Police, along with partner agencies, led in an approach to inform local businesses and counterfeit retailers of their responsibility to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the Strangeways area on Thursday 4 June.

A number of partner agencies joined together to help during the day, including the GMP Neighbourhood team, the Transport Unit, Manchester City Council’s Trading Standards team, TM Eye, parking enforcement, Environmental Health and the Challenger team.

The aim was to engage and explain the Covid-19 restrictions and promote the two-metre social distancing guidelines that are imperative to follow in order to reduce the spread of the virus.

Non-essential retail shops still need to work under the proviso of click and collect and customers are not allowed to enter the business premises. Cafes should also remain to offer food and drink as a takeaway option only.

Prior to the day a warning letter was issued to any premises that were continuing to allow customers to enter into a shop, as a reminder of the lockdown restrictions currently in place for retail premises.

On the day 28 buildings were served a Covid-19 Prohibition notice by Trading Standards. This notice prevents the retail unit from opening until lockdown restrictions have been lifted on non-essential shops reopening (15 June). If breached, the owner could face prosecution and an unlimited fine.

Superintendent Rebecca Boyce at Greater Manchester Police said: “Many businesses across Greater Manchester have been complying with government guidelines and legal requirements and we appreciate the ways in which people and business owners have adapted to these changes. However, there have been a small minority that have continued to remain open, which is risking the health of their staff and anyone that enters the premises.

“We understand the disruption these regulations have made to everyone’s lives, however they are in place to protect everyone and prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“The partner work of today is part of the Op Magpie approach, which aims to highlight intellectual property crime, counterfeiting and the associated crime and anti-social behaviour in the areas of Cheetham Hill and Strangeways.”

Councillor Rabnawaz Akbar, executive member for neighbourhoods, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a great deal of upheaval in our day to day lives, but, as a Council we were here today to reassure residents that concerns about crime and public safety will not be ignored.

“Criminals need to know that we will not tolerate their illegal behaviour and equally, we will not stand idle as landlords do nothing to prevent criminality on their literal doorstep. Residents of Manchester are reminded that non-essential retail businesses remain closed to access and that by visiting counterfeit traders in this area they are putting their health at risk as well as funding organised crime”
Which? launches new scam alert service as coronavirus creates ‘perfect storm’ for fraud
23 April 2020
Which? is launching a free scam alert service to warn consumers about the latest fraud attempts and give advice about how they can protect themselves, as criminals exploit the coronavirus outbreak to unleash a new range of scams.
With more than £1.2 billion lost to scammers in 2019, fraud has become one of the most prevalent crimes in the UK, which often results in devastating consequences for victims.
In recent weeks, scammers have rushed to exploit the widespread fear and confusion caused by the pandemic.
Which? has heard many reports of different types of coronavirus-related scams including:
  • Bogus phishing texts from HMRC claiming the taxman has been forced to issue refunds due to coronavirus, and providing a link for readers to “calculate their refund”.
  • Fake messages purporting to be from the government, requesting people pay a fine for breaching the coronavirus lockdown rules.
  • Emails encouraging people to use their time during the coronavirus lockdown to invest in bitcoin.
    Unsolicited calls from fraudsters offering to enrol vulnerable people onto coronavirus vaccine trials for a fee.
To help consumers separate the scams from legitimate communications being sent by firms, government and organisations about coronavirus, Which? is launching a free scam alert service.
Available to everyone, those signing up will receive warnings about the latest scams as the consumer champion uncovers them, along with information about how to spot a scam and protect themselves against falling victim to fraudsters.
Around £2 million has already been lost to coronavirus-related scams in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, according to Action Fraud figures, while the National Cyber Security Centre has detected 2,500 government-branded scams since the start of March.
Earlier this week, GCHQ urged the public to be more vigilant than ever for online fraud attempts as families face an “unprecedented threat from cyber criminals”.
Google has said scammers are sending 18 million hoax emails about Covid-19 every day, while security experts say they have discovered more than 700 fake websites mimicking Netflix and Disney+ signup pages as criminals try to take advantage of the lockdown to harvest people’s bank details.
Financial bodies including the Pensions Regulator, Financial Consumer Authority and Money Advice Service also issued a joint statement urging savers not to make rash pension decisions, over fears that scammers will try to exploit people's concerns about the impact of the outbreak on their finances.
Gareth Shaw, Head of Money at Which?, said:
“The coronavirus outbreak has created the perfect storm for scams, with fraudsters using callous tactics to exploit people’s fears and vulnerability for their own financial gain. As new scams spring up daily, our alert service aims to help people protect themselves and their loved ones.
“Everyone should be extra cautious about clicking on links in any unsolicited emails and texts or answering calls. Make sure your computers, mobile phones and tablets are supported by the latest security updates, and consider installing antivirus software to minimise threats.”

About ACG

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.

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