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Slippery characters: Two men sentenced for selling fake Bio-Oil

20 May 2022

Two men who sold fake Bio-Oil online to pregnant women have been sentenced.
Norman Gill, 73, of Langland Court Road, Swansea, pleaded guilty to distributing articles infringing trademark and acquiring criminal property. He was sentenced to 13 months imprisonment suspended for two years at Swansea Crown Court on 20 May 2022.


John Burns, 73, of Mariner Way, Swansea, also pleaded guilty to acquiring and possessing criminal property on the day his trial was due to begin. He was given a 12 month community requirement at Swansea Crown Court on 20 May 2022.


Detective Constable Daryl Fryatt, from the City of London Police’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), said:


“Gill wanted to make large financial gain for himself by selling fake products to people online and repeatedly tried to change his online store name to avoid being caught and banned from selling. Not content with already making vast profits through dishonest means, he convinced Burns to help him with his slippery business.
“Thankfully the product was not dangerous to those who had purchased it, rather it was useless and of no benefit. Gill’s business was anything but slick and this sentence should make it clear to criminals that you will get caught and punished for selling counterfeit goods to unsuspecting members of the public.”


The crime came to light after a referral was made to PIPCU from a law firm acting on behalf of Bio-Oil. A customer who had purchased the fake Bio-Oil had returned it to the company as she believed it was counterfeit.


Investigations found that the product was being sold on an online marketplace website under a variety of different seller usernames including “mrbiooil” and “bio-oil-master”, and the seller was listed as Gill.
Investigators on behalf of Bio-Oil made a test purchase in August 2017 and testing at a laboratory found the product was only a 46.58% match to a genuine Bio-Oil formula. The genuine product would be a 98% match.


Gill was issued with a cease and desist letter and he provided details of his supplier and returned remaining stock he had.


During a second test purchase in March 2018 from Burns’ online account, the bottles of Bio-Oil were also found to be counterfeit. Burns denied involvement in selling counterfeit goods and said that he had been persuaded to let Gill use his online accounts to sell products.


Officers carried out a warrant at Gill’s home address and during searches of the property, officers found Bio-Oil branded products in a cupboard. The products were seized and a laboratory examination found that the product contained a maximum of 47.98% of the genuine product and was therefore deemed to be counterfeit.


An examination of Gill’s bank accounts found between November 2015 and October 2019, 38 payments were made to him from Burns, totalling more than £43,000.


During his police interview, Burns claimed that he had helped Gill sell products online but that it was “all for his [Gill’s] gain”.


Gill initially gave no comment during his police interview but then later he stated that he went into business with Burns by selling online. He also claimed that the Bio-Oil found at his address was for his personal use and would last him for two years.

A spokesperson for Bio-Oil said:


“We would like to thank PIPCU and Swansea Crown Court for ensuring that justice has prevailed.“We live in a changing world where consumers are attracted by the convenience of online and sometimes lower prices. Online marketplaces are the perfect place for errant, determined counterfeit sellers to exploit seller listing deficiencies.
“Bio-Oil remains determined to find, report and pursue sellers of counterfeit products. We want marketplaces to perform more detailed due diligence of sellers so that errant sellers can be held accountable when found selling counterfeit goods. For good to prevail, it is vital that they assist more in our pursuit of infringers if we hope to stop the scourge that is counterfeit goods.”


Tim Moss, Chief Executive of the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), said:


“Counterfeit goods cause real social and environmental harm, and damage legitimate businesses. Such goods are often unsafe or defective, undermine consumer confidence and help sustain criminality.

“This case demonstrates how criminals will deal in counterfeit versions of almost any type of product imaginable if they think it will lead to a fast profit - with complete disregard for those they deceive in the process. Our new counter-infringement strategy sets out how the IPO is supporting operational activity to clamp down on the sale of such illicit goods, working in partnership with the police and industry to help protect communities from this type of crime.”

 

 

Prosecution of Sherborne Woman Follows Counterfeit Clothing Seizure

19 May 2022

A Sherborne woman who was stopped with over 300 items of counterfeit clothing in her van has been prosecuted and sentenced.

 On 18 May 2022, at Weymouth Magistrates’ Court, Tracey Hampson, aged 41 of South Avenue, Sherborne was sentenced to 100 hours unpaid work after pleading guilty to four offences under the Trade Marks Act 1994 at an earlier hearing. She was also ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £95 and prosecution costs of £500. The case was brought by Dorset Council, Trading Standards.

The court heard that she was stopped by police driving her van near Sherborne in March 2021 and they found it was loaded with clothing and footwear which they suspected was counterfeit. The police seized the goods and passed them to Dorset Council Trading Standards to investigate.

Trading Standards officers obtained evidence from the trade mark owners that the goods were illegal copies. A total of 322 items were seized, mainly clothing and footwear with some cosmetics and handbags. The brands represented included Nike, Adidas, Stone Island, Armani, North Face, Hugo Boss, Moncler and Michael Kors. If the goods had been genuine the total value would have been over £56,000.

In interview Hampson told officers that she had obtained the goods from market traders in London and Bristol and believed that they were genuine. She had sold some through Facebook but her main outlet was through an eBay shop. She had ceased trading after the seizure. In sentencing, the magistrates took account of Hampson’s difficult personal circumstances.

Martin Thursby Principal Trading Standards Officer at Dorset Council said, “The maximum penalty for selling counterfeit goods is 10 years imprisonment. Anyone tempted to sell counterfeit goods over the internet should be aware of this.”

Cllr Laura Miller, Dorset Council Portfolio Holder for Customer and Community Services, said:

“The sale of counterfeit goods damages legitimate business, including local retailers selling genuine products and can confuse and mislead consumers. Our Trading Standards team will take action against sellers of counterfeit goods and those involved should be aware that significant penalties can follow.”

To report someone selling suspected counterfeit goods, the first point of contact is the Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 0808 223 1133.

 

 

 

Counterfeit and Pirated Goods Get Boost from Pandemic, New Report Confirms

7 March 2022

  • Criminal networks have quickly adapted to new opportunities and demand for products generated by the pandemic.
  • Fake cosmetics, food, pharmaceutical products, pesticides and toys all pose a serious threat to consumers’ health.
  • Counterfeiting now relies heavily on the digital domain to source components and distribute their products (both tangible and non-tangible) to consumers via online platforms, social media and instant messaging services.
  • Most counterfeit goods distributed in the EU are produced outside the EU.
     

The latest Intellectual Property Crime Threat Assessment, produced jointly between Europol and the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), reveals that the distribution of counterfeit goods has been thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic. The health crisis has presented new opportunities for trade in counterfeit and pirated products, and criminals have adjusted their business models to the meet the new global demand.

The report, based on EU-wide data and Europol’s operational information, confirms that counterfeiting and piracy continue to pose a serious threat to the health and safety of consumers, as well as to the European economy. Imports of counterfeit and pirated goods reached EUR 119 billion in 2019, representing 5.8 % of all goods entering the EU, according to the latest data from OECD and EUIPO. 

In addition to the categories of counterfeited clothes and luxury products seized, there is a growing trade in fake products which have the potential to damage human health, such as counterfeit medicines, food and beverages, cosmetics and toys.

Counterfeit pharmaceutical products, ranging from a variety of medicines to personal protective equipment or face masks, have been increasingly identified in  recent years. Distribution has shifted almost entirely from physical to online markets, raising public health concerns. These illicit products largely continue to originate from outside the EU, but they may also be produced in illegal laboratories within the EU, which are difficult to detect and can be set up with relatively few resources.

The production of illicit food products, and especially drinks, has become more professional and sophisticated, with some counterfeiters covering the whole supply and distribution chain. Violations of protected geographical indications continue to be widely reported too.

The report also shows some key trends in various product sectors primarily targeted by counterfeiters. Clothes, accessories and luxury goods remain among the most popular product categories for counterfeit goods, sold both online and in physical marketplaces. They are one of the top categories of the approximatively 66 million counterfeit items seized by authorities in the EU in 2020.

How criminal networks operate

The threat assessment highlights that the distribution of counterfeit products mostly relies on digital platforms, a trend which has been reinforced by the pandemic and widespread online consumption. Counterfeit goods are offered on online marketplaces, via live-streaming, videos and advertising on social media platforms, and instant messaging services, usually targeting customers with misleading discounts or low-price branded products.

Counterfeiting is a highly lucrative activity for the criminal networks involved, which reap large profits while running relatively few risks. 

IP crime has been included as one of the EU’s priorities in the fight against serious and organised crime from 2022 to 2025 as part of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).

The assessment underlines that, although the majority of counterfeits in the EU market are produced outside Europe, mainly in China and other parts in Asia, domestic manufacturing within the EU is an increasing trend. The increasing importation of counterfeit packaging materials and semi-finished products into the EU clearly points to the presence of illegal manufacturing facilities in the EU. Criminal networks based in Europe involved in IP crime carry out the distribution of imported counterfeits and, in some cases, operate modern production facilities that assemble semi-finished products.

Europol’s Executive Director, Catherine De Bolle, said:

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented new business opportunities for criminals to distribute counterfeit and substandard goods. At best, these products will not perform as well as authentic ones. At worst, they can fail catastrophically. Law enforcement seizures indicate that the production of these goods is increasingly taking place within the EU, while the COVID-19 pandemic has further entrenched the criminals’ reliance on the digital domain to source and distribute their illegal goods. This report shines a light on the extent of this criminal phenomenon and calls for concerted, cross-border action in response as we enter the post-COVID economic recovery. The unscrupulous counterfeiters should be the only ones paying a steep price.

The Executive Director of the EUIPO, Christian Archambeau, said:

This new threat assessment report casts new light on the scope, magnitude and trends of counterfeiting and piracy in the EU, and the damage it can cause to consumers’ health and to legitimate businesses, particularly during these challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through our close collaboration with Europol, we will continue to support the efforts of law enforcement authorities in the fight against IP crime.

Other fake goods in the market

Mobile phones, their accessories and components are also among the top categories of fake goods seized, and are sold in great numbers during sales events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Counterfeiters have recently been exploiting the global supply shortage in semiconductor chips. 

In the case of perfumes and cosmetics, the illicit production relates to everyday goods, such as shampoo, toothpaste, or detergents. 

The trade in illicit pesticides remains a low-risk, high-profit activity, sustained by a high demand and low sanctions for the offenders.

The COVID-19 pandemic also led to an increased offer of illicit digital content, which is often linked to other cybercriminal activities. Piracy is now mostly a digital crime, and websites illegally distributing audio-visual content are hosted on servers across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

 

 

IPO launches new strategy to address IP crime and infringement

4 February 2022

The new strategy sets out how the government will address IP crime and infringement over the next five years.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has today published the UK’s new Intellectual Property (IP) Counter-Infringement Strategy.

The new 5 year strategy represents a step change in the IPO’s drive to protect IP rights. By partnering with others to set a global gold standard, it aims to make UK IP rights - and rights owned by UK businesses internationally - the best protected in the world.

The strategy seeks to establish how enforcement agencies, government and industry can work together to build upon and improve current structures, ensuring that IP infringement is tackled coherently as a strategic economic and social threat - at home and internationally. It will be underpinned by a strong research plan, and the findings will be shared widely with partner organisations to build a robust evidence base to support and inform work.

5 Key commitments within the strategy include:

  • to establish a national centre of excellence for the development and analysis of intelligence relating to IP infringement, placing this at the core of IP enforcement activity and ensuring it takes a central lead and coordination role in the fight against IP crime and infringement
  • to work with Trading Standards, Border Force and the Police to embed IPO funded IP crime coordinators and champions in local regions to develop intelligence, coordinate activity and resource the fight against IP crime and infringement
  • to work collaboratively with enforcement agencies to review how IP crime is recorded
  • to develop the structures and membership of the IP Crime Group - enabling it to have a strategic and tactical enforcement focus across government, enforcement agencies and industry
  • to develop impactful campaigns to reduce IP crime and infringement, working with partners and focusing on both those knowingly and unknowingly infringing

IP crime is often considered by criminals as a low-risk but very high-reward crime. The IPO’s new strategy highlights the link between IP crime and other serious criminality such as money laundering, causing significant harm across communities. The strategy recognises that increased public awareness and criminal enforcement are complementary elements in addressing these harms. It commits to working toward a time when IP infringement is seen as socially unacceptable to all, while delivering intelligence driven enforcement action against the perpetrators of IP crime.

The delivery plan will be intelligence-led, harm-focused, and continuously improved. Work within the strategy will be organised under three overarching themes:

  • partnership: to co-ordinate the UK’s fight against IP crime and infringement
  • leadership: to continue to be a world leader on IP enforcement
  • education: to empower consumers and businesses and raise awareness and understanding of IP crime and infringement and risks surrounding it

The IPO’s Chief Executive, Tim Moss, said:

"IP drives innovation and investment, and is at the heart of the government’s Innovation Strategy. The infringement of IP rights poses a significant threat to this. It undermines the confidence IP rights give to businesses and investors, damages the economy, and has grave consequences for consumer safety and communities."

"Our new strategy lays the groundwork for us to tackle IP crime and infringement in all areas, now and in the future. Our commitments within the new strategy are exciting and ambitious, and we believe they will have a real impact in the fight against IP crime at regional, national and international levels."

Alliance for IP Director General Dan Guthrie said:

"We welcome the IPO’s new Counter-Infringement Strategy, and the benefits to businesses, small and large, that greater collaboration will bring in this hugely important area."

"IP rights play a fundamental role in protecting the hard work and investment of creators and inventors in every region of the UK, whilst also protecting the public. We know that our members will be keen to continue to work closely with the IPO to deliver the ambitious commitments in the strategy over the next five years, working together in the fight against IP crime and infringement, to ensure they can continue to drive economic growth across the UK."

Detective Chief Inspector Suzanne Ferris, of the City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), said:

"Intellectual property crime is not a victimless crime and often helps to fund serious and organised criminal activity. We welcome this new strategy which will help co-ordinate the fight against this type of crime and we will continue to work closely with the Intellectual Property Office, and our partners, nationally and internationally, to tackle this and bring those responsible to justice."

City of London Police Assistant Commissioner Pete O’Doherty, National Co-Ordinator Economic and Cyber Crime; Co-Chair IP Crime Group said:

"The launch of the new IP Counter-Infringement strategy by the UK Intellectual Property Office sets out an ambitious and comprehensive framework to tackling the infringement of IP Rights. Counterfeit goods are often sold locally, having been facilitated and routed across global supply chains by organised and international criminal networks."

"This strategy sets a clear vision with the investment needed, that puts in place the foundations for a strong partnership approach with all areas of law enforcement in the years to come."

 

 

Shop and flat closed after more than £150,000 worth of dodgy cigarettes, vapes and baccy seized in trading standards raid

4 January 2022

A Norton store and neighbouring flat have been shut down after a Trading Standards raid resulted in the seizure of more than 200,000 dodgy cigarettes, with some stashed in purpose-built hides.

Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council secured a three-month closure order for The Norton Shop, 274 Norton Road, and Flat 272 Norton Road, at Teesside Magistrates’ Court today (January 4).

The court heard that Council officers joined by police and a sniffer dog executed a search warrant at the shop and flat in November following a string of complaints about illicit tobacco sales, including reports of sales to children.

They found two packets of counterfeit cigarettes behind the shop counter and dozens more stowed away in a wooden hide behind a “TOILET” sign above a door in the shop’s back room.

But it was a search of the flat above a neighbouring shop and its back yard that unearthed a far more substantial haul, with boxes of illicit tobacco piled floor to ceiling in a custom-made roof compartment as well as stashes in wardrobes in the hallway, drawers and cupboards in the kitchen, and boxes in the bedroom.

All in all, officers seized 212,020 counterfeit cigarettes and 832 pouches of suspected counterfeit tobacco, along with 439 non-compliant e-cigarettes with a total value of around £150,000. A related criminal investigation is ongoing.

Councillor Steve Nelson, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Access, Communities and Community Safety, said: “We have received complaint after complaint about this shop and worryingly a number of these complaints have been about the regular sale of single or packets of cigarettes – and vapes – to children.

“Those involved in this illicit trade obviously have no conscience – they’re only interested in making money and don’t care about the harm they’re causing to our communities or that such activities encourage children to take up smoking. As this case shows, they’re also resorting to increasingly sophisticated methods to try to evade detection.

“We secured an interim closure notice before Christmas and I’d like to thank our Trading Standards officers for their tenacious work in securing this three-month closure order, which is the maximum the magistrates can impose. I’d also urge local people to report any sales of illicit tobacco to us so we can take the necessary action.”

Anyone with information on the supply of illicit tobacco from any business or residential premises in the Borough is urged to contact Trading Standards on 01642 526560 or email trading.standards@stockton.gov.uk.

Like the Council’s Facebook page to get the latest news in your feed. You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

GAME OVER: Duo involved in infringing video game content sentenced 

30 November 2021

Two men have been sentenced for infringing video game content which is estimated to have cost the gaming industry £10 million.

Steven Trump, 49, and Paul Jonathan Carloss, 51, were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Monday 29 November 2021 after previously pleading guilty at a hearing on Monday 4 October 2021.

Trump, of Park Drive, Blyth, Northumberland, NE24, was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, 240 hours community service, a 32 day rehabilitation order and ordered to pay £1,000 in costs for distributing articles which infringe copyright and possession of articles for use in fraud.

Carloss, of William Street, Birmingham, B15, was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to pay £250 in costs for distributing articles which infringe copyright.

Police Staff Investigator David Chenery, from the City of London Police’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), said:

“Trump and Carloss both played a pivotal role in distributing infringed video game content which is believed to have resulted in a huge financial loss to the games industry.

“The sentence passed down today should act as a clear warning to those involved that this crime will not be tolerated, and that we will continue to work closely with our partners and industry to bring those responsible to justice.”

The City of London Police launched an investigation into a BitTorrent Tracker members-only website in June 2015 following a referral from the Association of UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE). Trump set up the website, which hosted a large number of torrent files, in 2006.

The investigation revealed that of the 17,000 torrent files available on the website in 2015, 75 per cent of them were linked to infringing video game content.

Carloss joined the website in 2009 as a member and made his way up the ranks, later being promoted to a moderator then an admin by Trump.

Between June 2013 and October 2016, Carloss was involved in the running and operation of the website. He acted as the main point of contact between the other members and Trump. By 2015, he was promoted to a system moderator and was running the website almost by himself.

The website, at the time, was one of the most prominent private games-only torrent trackers on the internet, with more than 28,000 members and approximately 27 petabytes (the equivalent of 27 million gigabytes) of content available to download. The most popular 50 torrents (containing games) were downloaded a total of 335,499 times.

Both Trump and Carloss participated in uploading and downloading video game content themselves.

Although the website did not host or store pirated content, it provided facilities to search for and access identified files, creating the ability for individuals to share and download digital content using peer-to-peer technology.

Analysis conducted found that the financial loss to the games industry is likely to be in the region of £10 million.

Trump and Carloss were both arrested on Tuesday 18 October 2016 following two warrants at two residential addresses. A number of items were seized from both properties, including four computer tower units.

Trump admitted in his first police interview to creating the website himself, uploading torrents to the website and downloading copyrighted material.

 

 

Love online shopping? Here's how to protect yourself against online scammers

3 November 2021

#SellSafe awareness campaign launches on 3 November as part of the 2021 eCommerce Action

Online shoppers need to be more vigilant than ever as organised crime groups continuously adapt their online fraud methods to exploit both citizens and e-commerce companies. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, many businesses have had to go online to continue their activities. With citizens now using online services several times a week and increasingly doing their shopping online, there is a much greater opportunity for attack by cybercriminals. 

Even when online purchasing has been made secure by implementing new technologies, such as Secure Customer Authentication or Two-Factor Authentication, cybercriminals still find ways to steal the hard-earned cash of online shoppers.
 

#SellSafe awareness campaign

Europol, along with the Merchant Risk Council and participating countries, is launching the #SellSafe campaign today after the success of the campaign last year to highlight the top tactics for fighting online fraud. The aim of the campaign is to make e-commerce more secure by promoting safe online purchasing methods and by helping new merchants to open their first online shop without the risk of cyberattacks. 

This takes place after law enforcement authorities from participating countries, supported by Europol and the Merchant Risk Council, joined forces in a coordinated action against online fraud from 1-31 October as part of the 2021 eCommerce Action. As a result of this, 46 suspects have been arrested linked to fraudulent transactions. The modus operandi involved using certain mobile apps associated with banks in order to make transfers and purchases illegally. 

The participating countries include Albania, Austria, Belgium, Colombia, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Georgia, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and the United States. 

Participating countries will promote the campaign through their social media channels using the #SellSafe hashtag to help consumers understand the risks of e-commerce fraud.

To protect consumers, Europol has provided a number of helpful tips to stay one step ahead of the scammers and to make sure that you don’t lose money.

Tips to protect your e-business:

  • Ensure all employees are aware of the fraud issues affecting online stores 
  • Stay up to date on the types of payment fraud affecting businesses and have the tools in place to prevent them. Your national payments organisation will have details on payment fraud types
  • Get to know your customers in order to be able to verify their payments

Tips for online shoppers:

  • Never send your card number, PIN or any other card information to anyone by e-mail
  • Never send money to anyone you don’t know
  • Always save all documents related to your online purchases
  • If you are not buying anything, don’t submit your card details

Find more tips on how to protect yourself and your business from e-fraudsters here

More general advice on how to shop safely online is available here.

 

 

New laws needed to protect people from an epidemic of scams, dangerous products and fake reviews online, Which? warns

24 September 2021

Which? is launching a campaign for new laws to protect people from an epidemic of scams, dangerous products and fake reviews online – as new evidence from the consumer champion shows tech giants are failing to adequately protect their users. 

Which? believes urgent government action is needed to make online platforms legally responsible for the harmful content on their sites that leaves people seriously exposed to financial, emotional and even physical harm.

The consumer champion’s latest research, a survey of 2,000 UK adults, shows trust among consumers in the ability of tech giants like Amazon, eBay, Facebook and Google to protect them from either scams, unsafe products or fake reviews is shockingly low - with two thirds (68%) of people saying they have little or no trust that online platforms are taking effective steps to do so.

Which? has tracked these problems for several years and believes they are symptomatic of a broader issue - the failure of major online platforms to take enough responsibility. If left unchecked, this will likely lead to the problems consumers face online getting worse in years to come.

Which?’s survey found worrying indications of the presence of these issues on online platforms and the negative impact they have on victims. 

One in five (18%) respondents reported having bought an unsafe product that posed a health or safety risk from an online marketplace in the last year. 

A fifth (21%) said a product they had bought from Amazon Marketplace presented a health or safety risk and one in six (16%) who had bought a product from eBay reported this happening too. 

Alan Christopher, 46, told Which? he bought an ‘iPosible’ power bank from Amazon Marketplace but that shortly after receiving it, the product - which carried a coveted Amazon’s Choice endorsement - caught fire in his home. He managed to get the product to his sink and cover it with water before it caused further damage. 

He said: “This product could have killed me. It’s really worrying that these products are making their way into people’s homes and are still being sold despite having such a serious issue. It has made me distrustful of buying from Amazon.”  

Eight per cent of survey respondents said they had been the victim of a scam as a result of using an online platform. 

For scam victims, the knock-on effects were severe, with half (51%) saying it was negative for their financial situation, a third (33%) saying it negatively impacted their mental health and a quarter (23%) saying falling victim to the scam even impacted their physical health in a negative way. 

David*, in his seventies, lost over £20,000 in an investment clone scam last year. After a Google search for the 'best rate of interest for savings of £15,000', he clicked on what he believed to be a legitimate website, and filled in his personal details. He was then contacted by a fraudster posing as a Standard Chartered bank employee. The fraudster convinced David to deposit his life savings and he has not yet received a refund. 

He told Which?: "I feel very upset and shocked about the scam. I am an honest person, and wrongly expected others to be the same. It has been a rude awakening - I don't trust anyone now. The money from the investment was to be used for a replacement joint operation - I will be in agony for months to come.”

Nearly nine in 10 (89%) respondents to Which?’s survey said they use online customer reviews to inform product purchases or choice of services. 

However just six per cent trust ‘a great deal’ that online platforms like Amazon and Facebook are taking effective steps to protect consumers from fake reviews. Three times as many (18%) do not trust ‘at all’ that they are taking effective steps.

Around four in 10 (41%) people admitted to finding it difficult to work out if customer reviews are genuine and have been left by a real customer that truthfully describes their experience with the product or service. Just one in six (17%) said they found it easy to do so.  

Which? investigations over the last two years have exposed a flood of harmful content, including scams, dangerous products and fake reviews, making its way onto the biggest online platforms. Tech giants have put measures in place to protect consumers but Which? research has repeatedly found evidence that suggests these problems are continuing on an industrial scale. 

Which? has launched its new #JustNotBuyingIt campaign to make tech firms take responsibility for the harms taking place on their sites. Platforms not having enough legal responsibility allows unscrupulous individuals or businesses and criminals to sell unsafe products, mislead consumers and target potential scam victims with ease, causing serious harm to consumers and undermining trust in digital commerce. 

Powerful tech companies often profit from this harmful activity - whether via investment adverts paid for by criminals or sales of unsafe products boosted by fake reviews - and the lack of a legal framework means they lack sufficiently strong incentives to shut down these practices.

Despite having some of the most sophisticated technology known to man, the voluntary solutions put forward to date to tackle these problems by the major online platforms have been inadequate. 

Which? believes the government must now step in with laws giving regulators and other bodies the powers they need to make online platforms take responsibility for the serious consumer harms on their sites.  

 

Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:

"Millions of consumers are being exposed every day to scams, dangerous products and fake reviews. The world’s biggest tech companies have the ability to protect people from consumer harm but they are simply not taking enough responsibility.

“We are launching our new #JustNotBuyingIt campaign because it is time to stop just asking these platforms to do the right thing to protect consumers - instead the government and regulators must now step in and make them take responsibility by putting the right regulations in place.”

Link to Which?’s #JustNotBuyingIt campaign at: https://campaigns.which.co.uk/tech-giants-responsibility/

 

 

Biggest ever police operation against counterfeiting sees over £500m worth of goods seized

10 September 2021

A storage facility in Strangeways, Manchester, was raided by officers this week, in the UK’s biggest ever police operation aimed at cracking down on the sale and distribution of counterfeit goods. Officers raided 55 units within the storage facility, all full of fake goods.

The huge operation led by the North West Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, working with the City of London Polices’ Intellectual Crime Property Unit, Trading Standards, Border Force and Immigration Enforcement, with logistical support from Lighthouse Security, uncovered an estimated £500 million worth of branded goods. Two counterfeit perfume factories, and manufacturing equipment, was also found in a number of lock ups inside the storage unit.  All equipment was seized. Chemicals, including white spirit and screen wash, were also found in the unit used to manufacture fake perfume.

In total over 200 tonnes of goods were seized. If genuine and sold at retail price, this equates to an estimated loss to brands of over £500 million.

Police Constable Anthony Cregan, from the North West Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, who is leading the investigation, said:  

“This operation will have severely disrupted organised crime groups linked to counterfeit goods. We believe the hundreds of tonnes of goods seized would have supplied gangs in Cheetham Hill selling counterfeit goods. This funds an assortment of serious organised crime, which we are determined to combat.

“This enforcement activity and large-scale seizures should send a strong message to all criminals involved in counterfeit goods that this won’t be tolerated, and we are constantly working towards our next operation.

“It is important to recognise the serious impact of sophisticated and large-scale counterfeit operations such as this. I would like to take this opportunity to remind members of the public of the serious repercussions of this kind of offending, and the link to organised criminal activity. Please be under no illusion - this type of crime is not victimless.

“This operation showed the effectiveness of partnership working, and I thank all our partners involved for their help.”

The joint action saw two people arrested and multiple links found to two of the biggest organised crime groups in Cheetham Hill. The search warrants, which developed from a covert operation and intelligence from Border Force, saw over 60 officers and staff working together.

The investigation is ongoing, but officers have so far seized suspected counterfeit shoes, clothing, handbags, watches, makeup, perfume, sunglasses, batteries and headphones. Fake brand labels have also been seized. These are often imported separately to be sewn onto counterfeit clothing and shoes.

Mobile phones, laptops and a large amount of cash have also been seized.

Superintendent Paul Denn of the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit, said:

“This week our officers have been part of the UK’s biggest ever counterfeit operation – seizing more than £500 million worth of goods together with our partners from the City of London Police, Greater Manchester Police and Trading Standards.

“This is a huge success in our mission to combat the counterfeit goods trade in Cheetham Hill. Whenever we receive intelligence about illegal goods, we work closely with our colleagues at the City of London Police and other partners to investigate and take appropriate action. This week’s activity should send a clear message that we will stop at nothing to tackle this issue and it’s a priority we will continue to crack down on.  

“The counterfeit goods trade isn’t a victimless crime. Often criminals use the profits to fund other organised crime, and with that often comes violence, which can have devastating effects on the local community.”

Councillor Rabnawaz Akbar, Executive Member for Neighbourhoods for Manchester City Council, said:

"The counterfeit goods industry is not just a business of selling the odd knock-off bag, or a fake Gucci bag. It is the enterprise of organised criminal gangs who have ties to the drug trade, human trafficking, and a string of other serious crimes. As a Council, working with our partners, we are determined to stamp out counterfeit operations in North Manchester.

"We want to make our neighbourhoods safe and prosperous for all residents and as this week's Operation Genoa has shown, we are serious in achieving this goal."

       

 

Birmingham man sentenced for running a counterfeit clothing factory

24 August 2021 

A Birmingham man was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment at Birmingham Crown Court yesterday (23 August 2021) after pleading guilty to 26 offences for manufacturing and selling fake designer clothes.

Inderjit Sangu (67), formerly of Sandwell Road, Birmingham, had previously pleaded guilty to 26 offences under the Trade Marks Act 1994.

Mr Sangu - who owned a clothing manufacturing business in Park Road, in Hockley, Birmingham - was producing tens of thousands of counterfeit goods and distributing these to market stall and online sellers across the UK.

On 27 August 2019 - as part of Operation Beorma - officers from the National Trading Standards Regional Investigation Team (RIT), Birmingham Trading Standards and West Midlands Police executed search warrants on Mr Sangu’s factory and home address.

Operation Beorma is an ongoing investigation led by the National Trading Standards RIT and Birmingham Trading Standards into organised crime groups involved in the importation, manufacturing and distribution of counterfeit goods.

Members of the Anti-Counterfeiting Group (made up of brand representatives) examined the stock at the Hockley factory and confirmed they were counterfeit goods.

Trading Standards officers seized the fake designer clothing with a street value of approximately £500,000, as well as approximately 40,000 counterfeit branded clothing labels.

The fake designer labels seized by Trading Standards included brand names such as The North Face, Polo Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, Nike, Moncler, Versace, Givenchy, Stone Island, Super Dry, Prada, Lacoste and Canada Goose.

Three large industrial embroidery and sewing looms were found at the unit and there was clear evidence indicating counterfeit clothing being manufactured at the premises on a large scale.

In sentencing Mr Sangu, the judge, Mr Recorder Brandreth QC, told Mr Sangu that there had been ‘serious planning and pre-meditation’ in the counterfeiting operation as well as a ‘pattern of sophistication for which you are the leader’. He concluded by saying that ‘only a custodial sentence could be justified’.

Councillor Philip Davis, Chair of Birmingham City Council’s Licensing and Public Protection Committee, said: “This was one of the largest operations ever to be disrupted in the city. People may think counterfeiting is a victimless crime, but it's not.

"Counterfeiting is often linked to organised crime, drugs, modern slavery and child labour. They are ripping off the consumers, legitimate businesses and Inland Revenue. Birmingham Trading Standards will do everything they can to disrupt these organised crime groups who are involved in this illicit business."

Lord Toby Harris, Chair of the National Trading Standards Board, said:  “Trading standards officers and other partners are tackling this criminal activity. Consumers risk being misled and parting with hard earned money to pay for fake products. We will continue to work together to disrupt the organised crime groups and clamp down on criminals who sell counterfeit goods to unsuspecting members of the public. We urge people to be vigilant and report any examples of sales of counterfeit goods by calling the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 0808 223 1133.”

Graham Mogg, Intelligence Co-ordinator for the Anti-Counterfeiting Group, said: "The potential loss to industry was estimated at being more than £5 million. Each of the 40,000 labels seized would have been used to create a counterfeit item.  Whilst some may have been used to create a T-shirt that sold for between £40 and £50, others such as the counterfeit Canada Goose and Moncler labels would have been used to counterfeit clothing worth more than £1,000 per item."

A Proceeds of Crime Act case will follow later in the year.

 

A new initiative is launched to crack down on criminals using self-storage facilities fraudulently.

13 August 2021

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO), National Trading Standards, London Trading Standards and the Self-Storage Association UK (SSAUK), have teamed up to launch a new code of practice. The initiative’s aim is to reduce the appeal of self-storage facilities to criminals who deal in counterfeit and other illicit goods.

‘The Tick Box: Keep it Real Keep it Legal’ code of practice sets out a few simple procedures. The aim is to prevent the fraudulent storage of counterfeit and other illicit or unsafe goods. It also helps self-storage facility owners be sure of who is really using their premises. Counterfeit goods are often seized in self-storage facilities, or on their way to them. This scheme helps self-storage facilities to identify the individuals behind the crimes. It also helps enforcement authorities recover the goods before they enter the marketplace.

The scheme is already yielding results. Targeted enforcement action has disrupted criminal networks. This has resulted in the seizure of thousands of counterfeit items. These are estimated to be worth millions of pounds to criminals.

Storage facilities that participate in the scheme are provided with the ‘Tick Box’ logo. Posters are displayed within the premises. These act as an assurance to legitimate customers and a deterrent to anyone attempting to store counterfeit goods.

Forty-five local and national self-storage providers have already signed up to the first phase of the code of practice. More than 1,200 self-storage facility staff have received additional training under the scheme. The next phase will see the scheme continue to be rolled out across the UK.

Trading Standards will be promoting the scheme to self-storage operators at the European Self-Storage Conference and Trade Show. It is being held in Birmingham on 20 and 21 September 2021.

IPO CEO, Tim Moss said:

"Unsafe and illicit goods, such as counterfeits, create real social and environmental harms in our communities and criminals have used self-storage units as part of their activities. Self-storage providers signing up to the code of practice will now have absolute confidence they are doing everything possible to deter criminals who target them in this way, while reassuring legitimate customers that their belongings are in safe hands".

"I am delighted that the new code of practice is being co-delivered through an effective partnership between self-storage providers, government and local enforcement, complementing our comprehensive approach to disrupting IP crime".

SSA UK CEO, Rennie Schafer said:

"The self-storage industry welcomes the opportunity to work with Trading Standards and local enforcement agencies to identify and deter criminals looking to use the industry for storage of unsafe and illicit goods. Many of these goods can cause real damage to the local communities that the self-storage businesses are part of. As an industry we want to do all we can to eliminate such activity from our stores and the community as a whole".

Lord Toby Harris, Chair, National Trading Standards, said:

"Trading Standards officers are finding counterfeit goods in, or on route to, self-storage facilities. By supporting self-storage facilities to prevent the storage of illicit goods on their premises, we can help clamp down on the sale of counterfeit goods that continue to deceive consumers and undermine legitimate businesses. We encourage all responsible self-storage providers to sign up to the Tick Box scheme - it’s free to join and easy to implement and will provide peace of mind to facility owners about what is being stored on their premises".

 

PIPCU win Special Commendation Award for second year running

12 August 2021

The City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) has been awarded the Special Commendation Award for the second year in a row at this year’s Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG) Awards for Excellence.

The unit was awarded Highly Commended in the Special Commendation Award in recognition of their anti-counterfeiting enforcement work during the past year, The award is given to departments, teams or divisions in the police, customs (both HMRC and Border Force), government and/or overseas enforcement agencies for their contribution to the anti-counterfeiting effort.

T / Commander Clinton Blackburn, from the City of London Police, said:

“The unit has worked tirelessly over the past year to continue to bring  criminals to justice and I am delighted that their hard work and dedication has been recognised for the second year in a row.

“The award is extremely well deserved and recognises the excellent work undertaken by the team and highlights the importance and effectiveness of partnership working.”

In the last year, PIPCU has continued to work tirelessly to crack down on criminals committing intellectual property crime. Last month, the unit seized 12 tonnes of counterfeit goods in Manchester and in June, ahead of Euro 2020, the unit seized £80,000 worth of counterfeit football shirts.

The unit has also seized counterfeit car parts, illicit tobacco and cigarettes and counterfeit face masks, which police believe were going to be advertised as medical grade and sold online.

The unit has also seen a number of high profiles charges, including David Chambers, who admitted to administering a fake vaccine to a 92-year-old woman at her home and charged her £160.

Three officers were also recognised for their individual anti-counterfeit enforcement work during the past year. Detective Constable Daryl Fryatt was awarded Highly Commended in the Special Commendation Individual Award and Detective Constable Pete Gartland and another officer, who wishes to remain anonymous, were awarded Commended in the Special Commendation Individual Award.

PIPCU received the Special Commendation Award last year for their anti-counterfeiting enforcement work within the counterfeit region in Cheetham Hill, Manchester.

T/ Detective Inspector, Kevin Ives, Head of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit at City of London Police, said:

“I am extremely proud of the entire team for this achievement and to win the award two years in a row is a real testament to their hard work and dedication – especially over the past year with lockdown restrictions which has brought much uncertainty for everyone.

“We will continue to work closely with our partners, nationally and internationally, to tackle intellectual property crime.”

The winners were selected by the ACG Awards Committee and the team has been invited to a reception in September where they will be presented with their award in person.

The ACG works relentlessly with UK, EU and international governments and law enforcement agencies to shape an effective deterrent to counterfeiting, to protect business and consumers from the increasing dangers of counterfeit goods and IP crime.

 

June 29th 2021 marks our 6th year of British IP Day!

15 June 2021

This year we will be hosting our British IP Day celebrations virtually, showcasing the multifaceted contributions Intellectual Property (IP) makes to the UK. As the UK begins to re-open post-lockdown, we are keen to reflect on the significant impact IP rich industries have on UK growth, and envision a future that maximises this potential and recognises the successes of our creators.

At the Budget in April, the Government announced its plan to develop a new Innovation Strategy to support and shape economic recovery post-COVID-19. We expect the Strategy to be published in the Summer and with IP and innovation being so intrinsically linked, we have made innovation our theme for this year’s British IP Day

On the day we will hear from creators, businesses and their representative bodies and discuss how IP has helped them to earn a living from their innovation and creativity whilst delivering great designs, brands and content that people love and use day-to-day.

This year’s event will include four separate roundtables where topics under discussion will include the new Innovation Strategy, trade and exports, how creators and small businesses can benefit from IP, and how IP rich businesses are embracing AI. We will also be hearing stories throughout the day from creators and businesses such as from the games company JAGEX, who will be discussing the renowned online game, RuneScape, and how it’s huge popularity and their continuing investment in innovation has been underpinned by IP.

Aside from hearing from creators and businesses, we will additionally be joined by Chi Unwurah MP, Shadow Minister for Digital, Science and Technology; Adam Williams, Director of the International Division at the Intellectual Property Office and representatives of the IP Attaché network. They will individually share their thoughts on the importance of IP in regards to innovation and the economy, and highlight how businesses and creators should be celebrated through IP rich creativity and innovation.

Key contact details:

Dan Guthrie, Director General dan@allianceforip.co.uk  07720075299
Francesca Thorogood, Policy and Public Affairs Executive francesca@allianceforip.co.uk  07469935048
Annabelle Martin-Jones (Luther Pendragon) AnnabelleMartinJones@luther.co.uk  07740486728

 

Store manager of a counterfeit shop in Cheetham Hill sentenced

10 May 2021

The store manager of a shop in Cheetham Hill Manchester, who imported counterfeit goods and distributed them internationally, has been sentenced.

On Monday 10 May 2021, Husamaclin Karimi,  28, of Birkdale Street, Manchester, was sentenced at Tameside Magistrates' Court to four months imprisonment, suspended f

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