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Dangerous fakes overlooked

Dangerous fake goods being retailed online are being overlooked by government, complains the director-general of the Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG). The UK Government’s Online Harms Bill needs to recognise the growing threat of dangerous counterfeit goods, says Phil Lewis.

He says: “There is no quick fix to counterfeiting, but the Government’s proposed Online Harms Bill would help to reduce the considerable risks. However, the White Paper delivered to Parliament in December does nothing to recognise the growing threat of dangerous counterfeit goods. In fact, the Government has constantly, refused to accept the argument that counterfeiting is now a severe health and safety threat, despite the appearance of fake anti-COVID products.

“Now more than ever it is time for the UK to follow the US and EU lead and ensure that consumers and business are protected from the selling of dangerous fakes online, in the same way that they are protected from physical markets and retail sellers.

“ACG will continue to lobby hard, with partners, to emphasise that protecting consumers, protects business. If Government fails to see the link, then we will all be at increasing risk and huge profits will continue falling into criminal hands, at a time when we need to protect our communities and rebuild our economy.

The Online Harms White Paper set out in April 2019 a proposed duty of care to make companies take responsibility for ‘harmful behaviours and content’, as part of the Government’s aim make the UK a safe place to be online. In December 2020, the Home Office, and Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) published interim codes of practice of the action companies are encouraged to take to address terrorist content and activity, and child sexual exploitation and abuse, online ahead of the online harms regulator (communications watchdog Ofcom) coming into force. It’s proposed that tech companies will be required to state what content and behaviour is acceptable on their sites, and enforce those terms and conditions.

In December, Commons DCMS Committee Chair Julian Knight warned against ‘too narrow a definition of online harms that is unable to respond to new dangers’, and questioned how such harms will be proactively monitored.

Meanwhile at Manchester Crown Court, a company was fined almost £40,000 earlier this month after being caught selling hundreds of fake designer handbags. As a sign of the backlog during the pandemic in the criminal justice system, the original raid dated from September 2018; and the company in September 2020, admitted four offences of having counterfeit goods in possession for supply. The trade in fake goods in the Cheetham Hill district of Manchester was featured in the November 2019 print edition of Professional Security magazine.

The ACG has commented on a ‘huge growth’ in counterfeit goods (food, drink, PPE, remedies, household goods) being sold by predatory criminal gangs operating from backstreets and illicit markets during the pandemic, while the legitimate high street has had to close during lockdowns.



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