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New PIPCU campaign warns ‘there’s more at stake when it’s a fake’

  • Buying counterfeit goods online linked to identity fraud warns police unit.
  • Since 2014, more than 28,000 websites selling counterfeits have been shut down.
  •  Out of the 28,000 websites taken down, there were over 4,000 websites selling counterfeits registered using stolen identities of the UK public.
  •  400 individuals are believed to have had their identity stolen and used in setting up criminal websites.
  •  Over 15,000 reports linked to identity crime were received by Action Fraud between April 2016 and March 2017.

There’s more at stake when it’s a fake

The City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) has launched an awareness campaign today which warns the public that ‘there’s more at stake when it’s a fake’.
The campaign highlights the many consequences of buying counterfeit goods online. One of the main consequences of buying counterfeit goods on websites, social media and online is identity crime. When buying items, people will part with personal details such as their address and financial information which allows fraudsters to set-up new websites selling counterfeit goods in their name.

Action Fraud, the national fraud and cyber reporting centre, hosted by the City of London Police, has received over 15,000 reports linked to identity crime in the last year (April 2016 – March 2017) which shows the extent of the growing problem. In addition 400 victims have been contacted by PIPCU in the last two years to inform them that their identity is believed to have been stolen and used to open websites in their name after they had previously purchased counterfeit items online.

Having your identity stolen can affect you in a number of ways:

  • It can negatively affect your credit score and chance of getting credit in the future.
  • It can also take a long time to regain a person’s identity, it is estimated that it can take up to 300 hours to set the record straight.
  • Although the effects can be reversed, the impact of identity fraud can also be emotionally distressing for victims. 

Stay safe buying online 

But not only can you lose your identity when buying counterfeits, you can also end up buying goods which are unsafe. PIPCU is also urging online shoppers to be aware that counterfeit goods are often made using cheap materials that can pose a public safety threat. Not only are cheap and inferior items less effective but they also increase the risk of injury as counterfeits aren’t subjected to the vigorous safety checks that genuine items are. In a previous campaign, PIPCU called for consumers to ‘wake up – don’t fake up’ to warn the public of the risks posed by fake beauty products.

With the popularity of online shopping ever increasing, so is the production and sale of fake goods. In 2016/17 the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) reported that two million infringing items were detained at UK borders.

Checking the authenticity of a product is a lot harder when buying online and consumers cannot always gauge the look and feel of a product compared to when buying on the high street. Generic stock images are also frequently used to trick consumers into believing they are buying genuine items and websites selling fake goods are increasingly looking more ‘authentic’ in their design.

On the ball

Football shirts and footwear are amongst items that are popular for counterfeiters to replicate and are regularly bought online and those buying fake shirts are vulnerable to losing their identity. Last Thursday (21 September 2017) PIPCU highlighted the issue at the annual ‘Football Against Fakes’ conference which is hosted by the Premier League and helps to provide clubs and their partners with the opportunity to develop key working relationships and knowledge sharing to help them protect their brand.

To help tackle part of this problem since 2014 PIPCU has helped to protect consumers from being ripped off online by suspending more than 28,000 websites that have been fraudulently set up and often contain personal details stolen from innocent victims. Out of the 28,000 websites taken down, there were over 4,000 websites selling counterfeits registered using stolen identities of the UK public.

Safe shopping

Throughout the campaign, we will be sending out messages on social media using the hashtag #MoreAtStake to tell people how they can protect themselves. We will be issuing the following consumer advice and tips for safe online shopping:

  • Trust your instincts – if an offer looks too good to be true, then it probably is. Legitimate designer 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.

Detective Inspector Nicholas Court, of the City of London Police’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, said:

“Many people purchase counterfeit goods from bogus websites, knowingly and unknowingly, without realising that there can be significant consequences.

“We are warning the public that ‘there’s more at stake when it’s a fake’ and that buying from a rogue site puts your personal and financial information at risk, meaning that criminals can use your identity for malicious means.

“We are aware of many occurrences where criminals have put consumers at risk, compromising their identity as a result of their online shopping habits.

“So far we have been instrumental in the takedown of thousands of websites selling counterfeit goods and prevented thousands of consumers from handing over their personal and payment details to criminals and organised crime groups who often commit further crime including identity theft.”

Ros Lynch, Director of Copyright and Enforcement at the Intellectual Property Office, said:

“The sale of fake goods online is a challenging area. Consumers are often unaware that they are purchasing fake products and that the websites they are using might not be secure. It's vital that we help them understand the risks so they can stay safe.

“PIPCU's new campaign will help bring this message home so that people can learn how to protect themselves.

“Great progress has been made over the last two years, taking down websites and cutting the opportunities for consumers to be misled. However there is still more to do and the most effective way to deliver this is by PIPCU, government departments and industry working together.”

Case study: Emily

Emily, a teacher from Essex, unknowingly purchased bridesmaids shoes from a counterfeit goods website. This led to her identity being compromised and fake websites being set up in her name.

Speaking of the incident, Emily said:

“Although no funds had been taken out of my bank account, it was very stressful and frustrating to learn that my personal details had been compromised.

“After the incident, I was left feeling scared and vulnerable; I have a little girl whose safety I feared for, as these criminals had details of where I live. I am also a teacher, and I feared that my job would be compromised if I was seen to not be upholding the law and acting with integrity.

“I think of myself as someone who is ‘tech savvy’ and so I was horrified when I discovered that I had been scammed. This goes to show that anyone can become a victim of this, no matter what walk of life they are from.”



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