Other press releases
Europol predictions correct for fake COVID-19 vaccines
10 December 2020
Increased vigilance for criminal fraudulent activity is advised to all Member States
While Europe is hit by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, testing is ongoing for potential new vaccines to treat the virus. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has announced that it will conclude evaluation of the first conditional marketing authorisation application for a COVID-19 vaccine before the end of the year. Several EU Member States have already published their vaccination plans. Europol urges increased vigilance among Member States and third-party countries on the possible involvement of criminals in the vaccine development and distribution process.
Europol has published an early warning notification on Vaccine-related crime during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Confirmed crime projections of counterfeit vaccines
In April this year, Europol announced the potential harm of offline and online scams offering alleged versions of the COVID-19 vaccine. Projections were also made in relation to the announcement of a genuine vaccine and the reaction of organised crime to adapt its methods to meet demand.
These projections were later confirmed in Europol’s November report, where it was identified that the distribution of substandard and counterfeit pharmaceutical products, including preventative COVID-19 vaccines had remained a consistent pandemic-related criminal activity.
Counterfeit vaccines may pose a significant risk to public health
Owing to the pandemic, the demand for influenza treatments has been higher than usual and there are risks of shortages in numerous countries. This high demand may encourage people to seek the vaccine elsewhere. For this reason, once the legitimate vaccine enters the market, counterfeit versions of the brand are expected to circulate rapidly to meet the high demand.
It is feared that criminals will share disinformation to defraud individuals and companies alike. There have already been cases of advertisements on dark web marketplaces using the brands of genuine pharmaceutical companies that are already in the final stages of testing.
These counterfeit vaccines may pose a significant risk to public health if they are ineffective or toxic, given their production in labs without the required hygiene standards. These fake vaccines may circulate on illicit markets or be introduced to the legal market for distribution.
Europol actively encourages Member States to share any relevant information on criminal activities related to COVID-19 or flu vaccines.
Police warn of the dangers of counterfeit fireworks ahead of bonfire night
4 November 2020
- PIPCU warn people not to buy counterfeit fireworks this bonfire night
- Counterfeit fireworks are extremely dangerous and can cause life threatening injuries
- Shoppers are also at risk of identity theft from fraudsters who sell the fireworks
The City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) is urging people to buy their bonfire night fireworks from legitimate sellers.
With organised firework displays cancelled this year due to Covid-19, the City of London Police and the British Fireworks Association are asking the public to think twice about where they buy their fireworks from, and to consider celebrating in a different way that poses less risk.
Last week, officers from PIPCU stopped a van driving around different areas of the North West selling counterfeit fireworks. The van was seized as well as £4,000 worth of fake fireworks.
Peter Ratcliffe, Head of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), said:
“As public firework displays aren’t taking place this year and many still want to celebrate, we urge you to buy from legitimate firework sellers, and make sure you have checked all the safety advice and Covid-19 guidelinesbefore having a home fireworks display.
“A home firework display can impact significantly on your safety, your community, your neighbours, animals and the environment. The dangers of buying fake fireworks cannot be underestimated, with potentially devastating consequences for public safety. It is vital that consumers are extra careful and double check where they buy their fireworks from.
“Remember that fireworks are explosives, and as such should be treated with respect and only used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and the Firework Code.”
Legitimate fireworks pose a serious risk to the public if not used correctly, and counterfeit fireworks are even worse. They won’t have been through the same rigorous testing as genuine fireworks, the chemicals within them could be harmful, the packaging may not meet safety standards, and the instructions will not have been tested.
PIPCU is also warning the public that there are many risks when buying counterfeit fireworks on marketplaces, websites and social media. When buying items online, people will part with personal details including banking details, which allow fraudsters to set up new websites selling counterfeit products in the victim’s name.
Steve Raper, Chairman of the British Firework Association said:
“The BFA advice is only buy from shops which you recognise or feel will still be around after Bonfire night - and never from the back of vans. Only use web sites belonging to firework companies and avoid buying via social media. Always read the instructions printed on every firework - if they are not clear or not in English they may be illegal’.
Trick or treat: PIPCU warns of fake fancy dress dangers ahead of Halloween
28 October 2020
- PIPCU warns people not to be tricked into buying fake fancy dress costumes
- Counterfeit costumes pose risks of suffocation, poisoning and strangulation
- Shoppers are also at risk of identity theft from fraudsters who sell the costumes
The City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) is urging people to buy their Halloween fancy dress outfits from legitimate sellers.
Counterfeit costumes pose risks of suffocation, poisoning from untested dyes and strangulation from unsuitable fastenings. The outfits are not tested or subjected to the same rigorous testing as genuine items and therefore pose a public safety risk to consumers. The packaging of the clothing also does not meet safety standards.
PIPCU is also warning the public that there are many risks when buying counterfeit Halloween costumes on marketplaces, websites and social media. When buying items online, people will part with personal details including banking details, which allow fraudsters to set up new websites selling counterfeit products in the victim’s name.
Don’t get cursed this Halloween
PIPCU is issuing the following consumer advice and tips for safe online shopping this Halloween:
- Trust your instincts – if an offer looks too good to be true, then it probably is. Legitimate items are rarely discounted, so do not rush and be fooled into believing you are getting a good deal.
- Check the spelling and grammar on the website and of the URL as often the people behind these sites will try to deceive you by slightly changing the spelling of a well-known brand or shop in the website address.
- Look to see where the trader is based and whether they provide a postal address – just because the web address has ‘uk’ do not assume the seller is based in the UK. If there is no address supplied or there is just a PO Box or email, be wary.
- Only deal with reputable sellers and only use sites you know, or ones that have been recommended to you. If you have not bought from the seller before, do your research and check online reviews. People will often turn to forums and blogs to warn others of fake sites.
- Ensure the website address begins ‘https’ at the payment stage – this indicates a secure payment.
- Keep security software and firewalls up-to-date.
- Ask the trader if there is a returns policy or guarantee. Most rogue traders will not offer this.
- Watch out for pop-ups appearing asking you to confirm your card details before you are on the payment stage. Never enter your PIN online.
- Report to Action Fraud online at https://www.actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040. If you live in Scotland, please report directly to Police Scotland by calling 101.
Temporary Detective Inspector Kev Ives, of the City of London Police’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, said:
“Enjoying Halloween safely should be a guarantee, not a treat. Purchasing costumes from a reputable seller will ensure you are not tricked into buying unsafe products.
“The dangers of buying fake fancy dress costumes cannot be underestimated, with potentially devastating consequences for public safety. With the popularity of fancy dress costumes at this time of year it’s vital that consumers are extra careful and check where they are buying them from.
“Counterfeit costumes are untested, meaning they put people at risk of suffocation and strangulation. Make sure your Halloween is scary for the right reasons!”
Ros Lynch, Director of Copyright and Enforcement at the IPO said:
“In spite of restrictions on Halloween this year, it can still be a fun time for families. Along with our partners in the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), we want to make sure it stays that way.
“We echo PIPCU’s advice, and would urge the public to think twice before buying fake fancy dress costumes - the dangers are alarming, with potentially shocking implications to public safety.”
The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit is a specialist national police unit dedicated to protecting the UK industries that produce legitimate, high quality, physical goods and online and digital content from intellectual property crime.
The operationally independent unit was launched in September 2013 with funding from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). The unit is based within the Economic Crime Directorate of the City of London Police, which is the National Policing Lead for Fraud.
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.”