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Counterfeiting report: fake trade growing

Most counterfeiting is carried out by ever more professional, organised crime networks, which can reap large profits while running relatively few risks. So says a first EU-wide intellectual property crime threat assessment from the European Union’s policing agency, Europol, and the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).

It concludes: “More organised crime groups are specialising in one particular crime, producing better quality counterfeit goods, controlling the whole marketing process from production, to distribution, to the points of sale, most often under the pretence of legitimacy. They have also made better use of their available resources, for example using illegal laboratories and the same skilled workers for synthesising both counterfeit medicines and drugs.”

Although a majority of counterfeits in the EU market are produced outside Europe, in particular China, Hong Kong and Vietnam; domestic manufacturing within Europe is an increasing trend, the report says. The threat assessment, carried out using EU-wide data and strategic intelligence analysis, also stresses that, as well as the traditional categories of counterfeited clothes, footwear and luxury products, there is a growing trade in fake products which have the potential to damage human health. An example of this would be the trade in counterfeit medicines for the treatment of serious illnesses, which appears to be increasing.

Fake goods are increasingly shipped via small parcels and express couriers, harder for enforcement authorities to detect. Online, illegal digital content continues to be distributed through BitTorrent portals and peer-to-peer networks, but also, increasingly, via cyber-lockers, the threat assessment finds. The owners of these platforms generate profit through digital advertisements, which often include mainstream adverts from major brands. In many cases, these websites are also used to target consumers using phishing techniques or the dissemination of malware.

Counterfeiters continue to exploit the anonymity the internet; but don’t need to use the ‘darknet’. Counterfeit goods that are less obviously illegal, especially clothing, cosmetics, electronics and pharmaceuticals, continue to be mostly sold on the surface web, on widely available trusted platforms and by online pharmacies, according to the report.

For the full 42-page report visit the EUIPO website.

The Executive Director of the EUIPO, Christian Archambeau, said: “This threat assessment paints a stark picture of the scope and range of counterfeiting and piracy in the EU, and the damage it can cause to legitimate business and to consumers. Through our collaboration with Europol, we aim to support the efforts of law enforcement authorities in their fight against IP Crime, particularly in the online environment.”

And Europol’s Executive Director, Catherine De Bolle, said: “This report clearly shows that counterfeiting and piracy are not victimless crimes. Organised crime groups who produce and sell these goods have no respect for the quality of products which very often pose health and safety risks. Europol is dedicated to continuing its efforts, together with EU Member States and partners, to stop the criminal networks behind this dangerous and illegal trade. The health and safety of European consumers is of the utmost importance to us!”


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